Community, Jeremias, Mateus, Eternity…

Though we came to Angola to be spent especially among the unreached (those without access to the Good News of our Father’s affection for them) and desperate (those without access to basic needs, including health care), we have been planted in this very rural place, Cavango, a former Leprosarium and Mission before being destroyed in the civil war in 1976. We were heading in another direction last year, and then, through a variety of unexpected circumstances, it felt as though a Hand in our back pushed us here. Sometimes I question why. Jesus is revealing to me lately that one of the reasons we are here is because I needed to be here. I’ve learned that the location/vocation/acquaintances of my Father’s kids, at any given point in our lives, are chosen for many divine purposes, and I can usually only appreciate a few of them (sometimes none of them). You’ve likely heard the phrase, “He is more interested in what He’s doing in you than in what He’s doing through you.” My Father wanted me in Cavango… as much for my sake as for His.

I needed to appreciate, for example, the incredible way that community is lived out in this village. These folks have been through so much loss (friends, Moms, Dads, sons, daughters, etc) to war, conflict and disease, and yet (or perhaps because of…) the people of Cavango reflect the image of their Father in an other-worldly relational unity that I’ve never seen. They live very near each other in small stick-and-grass-houses (without much of what we consider necessary – electricity, windows, plumbing, technology, machinery, toilet paper, etc), and often work together, eat together, make decisions together, laugh and cry together… Jesus referred to this type of community… What affects one affects all, without exception.

Like all beauty on this earth, it’s not perfect, yet indeed beautiful. The individualism and development of the U.S. has had its benefits, but much has been lost on the road to the “first” world (especially in regards to community). Individually, much is often lost relationally on the road to achievement. As I’m exposed to this “undeveloped world” that still lives in close-knit community, I’m doubting that loss of community is worth what is gained in achievement/progress…

I’ve been able to join the people of Cavango in many community discussions and marvel at their combined wisdom and their emphasis of care (for the community as a whole) and their remarkable lack of concern for self-interests and individual “rights”. It’s completely different than what I’ve known. There is virtually no such thing as a strongly held opinion/ambition, as everything is offered as subject to the opinions of the others before a conclusion/decision is reached (many times, I’ve suggested an idea to our clinic director and he’s suggested that we present it to the council for a decision).

The leaders are quite obviously those who are followed because of their remarkable lives/integrity/character rather than because of their college degrees, charisma or strong/loud opinions. I’ve never seen anyone ever demand their way, though everyone is free to, and encouraged to, share their perspective. They are patient, active listeners (most are illiterate and not students of the latest psychological articles on healthy relationships). It’s clearly not their education/knowledge that brings this unity to Cavango, but rather their hearts for the good of the community as a whole, combined with an other-focused humility that beautifully taints virtually every encounter/decision. I have so much to learn from these folks … and I came to help them!

I’ve watched them working hard together over the past several weeks to renovate our hospital to prepare for housing TB and Leprosy patients (other-focused devotion and sweat). I’ve packed way too many passengers, quite uncomfortably, in my car to go on the awful dirt “road” for many hours to the city, with never a complaint, but with rather much expressed gratitude, and honoring, respectful (and usually joyful) conversation that rarely stops.

Unity is difficult to describe, but the unity within this community has, more than once, left me quite undone. In the states, a strong team is made of a group of strong individuals. Here, there is little sense of anything individual at all, as only the whole is the focus. Often loyalty and unity are valued in the US if they benefit me, yet loyalty and unity are really not about the one loyal at all! I’ve been a part of several beautiful churches and in them I’ve likely known the best community possible in the 21st century United States, but as compared to Cavango, I’ve known little real community. My Father apparently saw it necessary to have me witness and experience Kingdom community, as He prepares me for His home (and His eternal community). Have you sacrificed community for achievement/success? How can you become a more active part of a close community?

On Christmas Eve we watched, “It’s a Wonderful Life”… what a rich parable about the value of community!

Cavango has a small church and the church has a pastor (we were looking to live and work among those with neither), Jeremias, who has quite a life story, filled with loss, tragedy and redemption. Jeremias might be the most beautiful example I’ve known of purity and child-like love for Jesus and for people. He absolutely loves our work among the forgotten and knows the frustrations we’ve faced with lukewarm and noncommittal government officials, so when we recently visited some government officials and gained permission to use an old airstrip and to fly into their community to hold clinics, he literally jumped up and down and danced and shouted (he’s my age) as we returned to our car. After our many cold/weak government responses over the past couple years, I was also thrilled but too “cool” and “mature” to express my joy as he did. His joy and child-likeness is challenging, beautiful, and contagious. I needed to meet Jeremias in Cavango.

Our work among the unreached will be through our clinics with MAF to remote locations, the last two weeks of each month. Please ask our Father to give us favor in January with the appropriate governmental authorities to begin our work among especially the two unreached people groups we would like to serve.

We had a 49 year old woman in our clinic last week with very high blood pressure and dangerous cardiac symptoms, as a result. She came from about 80km (about 50mi) away and after the consultation, while our nurse was giving her discharge instructions, he emphasized to her that she must return for re-evaluation in a month, that she must return before her medicines run out, and that if she walks to her appointment, she must remember to give herself several days to arrive. She smiled pleasantly and said, “No problem,” and expressed extravagant gratitude for our help. I needed to meet this woman…

We recently had a young man die at our hospital and his family arrived over the next 24hr. Dealing with a body in our remote setting, especially when they’ve travelled a distance to get here, is always a challenge (we often return bodies to villages in our car). One day we’d love to have a simple morgue with some refrigeration, so that communities could have a couple days to organize their funeral/closure. These folks were from a village several hours away with no road access but with motorbike access over a long walking trail and across a rickety bridge. Two friends of the deceased strapped the body between them on a motorbike for a rough (and for me unimaginable) three hour ride to their village so their community could have closure and support each other in a proper farewell. Ben drove nine other family members to the nearest village (about 30 min from here) from which they could walk several hours home in the dark over the same bridge. They wanted to arrive in their village by the next day for the funeral, as the body must be in the ground within 24-48hr, for obvious reasons. The people of these rural communities radically support each other in life and in loss, and in selfless and uncomfortable ways…

I never liked olives until I lived and worked at Caluquembe for a month, a very busy rural Hospital in Angola. We would break for a quick lunch at 3p and a bowl of a few olives always greeted us at the table, but I’d always hated olives. One day, while famished and waiting for the food to be prepared, I tried an olive… and never tasted anything so good. I’ve loved them since. Hunger, both physically and spiritually, always changes our perspective.

We just returned from a trip, to a town about 4 rough hours away, to pick up diesel, immunizations, TB meds and windows for our 6 room TB center that we are currently building (photos). When we arrived at about 9a, the glassless, metal windows weren’t near complete, the immunizations weren’t prepared (they said, for the 5th time, “Come back in a week”), the TB meds for our critically ill patient with TB meningitis were refused us, and all three of the gas pumps were out of fuel. We stopped at 2p on the side of the road at a little outdoor market for lunch and I bought for the four of us, cold, rock-hard, fried chicken and some cooked potatoes and soda. Later in the day, as I was praising our Father for the fact that the day began poorly, but after several tactful and firm confrontations with authorities combined with no small amount of patience, we were returning to Cavango with diesel, immunizations for our clinic, TB meds for our patient, and windows for the TB building. Mateus, one of the beautiful leaders of Cavango traveling with us, a dear Jesus-lover about my age, said that, after the feast we had for lunch, we could arrive home with nothing and the day would have been madly successful.

One might think this was an “olive” story of hunger making anything taste good, but this is a rural culture where the people virtually never eat anything but a corn mash (called “funge”) that tastes like grits. They usually eat it twice daily (so Mateus wasn’t yet very hungry at 2p) and rarely eat anything else. They actually have a word (conduto) that means anything and everything eaten with their funge. If they have anything (conduto) with the corn meal, it’s a treat. Mateus, always joyful and one of the most gifted men in the village (who is able to find employment more than others), bought on our trip a small box of spaghetti (no sauce) and some crackers (nothing to put on them) so that his kids could have a treat on Christmas day (something with their “funge”).   I needed to meet Mateus, one of many that we live among whose life is characterized by much joy, while living with so little that we would consider necessary-for-joy. Who has our Father put in your life this year that you needed to meet?

I’m thankful… that my Father loves me enough to put me in circumstances that I wouldn’t choose, in order to model Himself to me through someone else, to mold me, to break me from myself, and to prepare me to better serve Him and His eternal community.

What challenging circumstances has Jesus chosen for you today to prepare you for His home?

We pray that you find intimate community this new year, that you are wonderfully spent, and that you and Jesus talk more than you ever have…

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