The economy in Angola is taking quite a hit from the decreased global oil prices. The value of the Angolan kwanza is down 30% against the American dollar from just 3 months ago. Oil is the primary export for this country and the decreased revenue will greatly affect especially those with less, as the distribution of governmental revenue is already criminally top-heavy. Please pray for those of us working with the rural poor (as to how we can lovingly and wisely respond) during what appears to be the beginning of a lengthy struggle.
Cataracts are a major health concern in this country for the rural folks who live exclusively outside their homes and in the intense sun. We recently bought about 300 pairs of sunglasses to distribute to the people in this region. They are being purchased for $1 and virtually everyone is now wearing these sunglasses. After the initial distribution, I was asked in a public community meeting if they were only for men or if women could buy and wear them also. We have a ways to go in the area of cultural adjustment to Jesus’ message of gender equality!
The rains are torrential and consistent in this part of Angola from December to March (we pretty consistently measure 5+ inches/week). Most houses are stick and mud or adobe (clay) brick homes for the more prosperous. The small town that is our municipality (Cachiungo) has had nearly 100 adobe houses collapse during the rains, causing multiple deaths. The folks are in their homes only at night and that is when we receive most of the rainfall and when most of the collapses occur.
This past week we flew to various remote sites to work medical clinics. We visited Catota for the first time to work in a hospital built by the government on an old mission that was destroyed during the war in the 1970s. They haven’t had a doctor work there since the mission’s destruction, except for a few visiting doctors for a day or two once or twice/year. The area is facing an extreme malaria epidemic, where virtually every person is dealing with the disease. This past week they ran out of malaria medication (they ran out of oral medication several weeks ago), except for IV quinine (which requires 3 doses/day and is quite impractical except in severe cases). Our visit was timely (the Wind), as we were able to treat nearly 100 malaria patients (many with complicated and severe disease because of the duration of illness without treatment). We were also able to leave with them several hundred dollars’ worth of oral and intramuscular medications (everything we had). I was approached by nearly every nurse who told me that they had tested positive in the past several weeks but had no medication with which to treat themselves. They each continued to work full-time with the illness and, without exception, they all looked awful. They are an incredibly tough people, dealing with this and other diseases with little available treatment. The “majority world” can be a cruel place, which is why Jesus spoke so much of life with Him after this life’s end.
When we were arriving at the airstrip near Catota, though we had previously notified all of the authorities of the date and time of our arrival, the was no one guarding the dirt airstrip and hundreds of people (who had never seen a plane land) flocked to the airstrip and ran alongside our taxiing plane. It was an incredibly dangerous situation, especially for the kids, who had no idea of the danger of a running (and invisible) propeller. We thankfully parked the plane without incident and were assured by the police force (after some very direct confrontation/conversation) that this type of circus will never happen again. My MAF pilot, Marijn Goud, from Holland, landed quite smoothly twice in severe storms during the week and I now know (it was our first trip together) that I will never have to worry about my safety on future trips. He has a beautiful heart for Jesus and is quite enthused about our work among the forgotten and what role he can play in our monthly visits to the various rural locations.
When we left Catota after two full days, we were intercepted on the road to the plane (at 6a) by the health administrator for the region, and confronted angrily for about an hour about our work in Catota and why he wasn’t notified. We explained that the administrator (his boss) knew all the details and he wasn’t informed by her, not by us. He was also upset that we charged for our consults, stating repeatedly that health care in Angola is free. I shared with him that a doctor has no value without his tools (medications) and that I always bring all medications that I need in order to provide appropriate care. I tactfully referred to Catota’s lack of malaria medications (the supply of which is his responsibility) as an example of the value of bringing our medications with us. I explained that we must charge for our medications (at cost) so that we can purchase more for subsequent visits with little dependence on outside help. The meeting ended well and the “dance” with governmental leaders necessary at every stop regarding our simple and straightforward service continues to provide an additional challenge for me.
It remains interesting to me over the course of these past three years that the patients have never once complained about our charge ($5) for medications (radically cheaper that those sold in pharmacies), while the governing officials have made it an issue at every location (each of which suffers extreme lack of necessary meds). Please continue to pray for our Father’s wisdom as we interact with these officials in the midst of the obvious offense we cause by our presence in their area of governance. It seems that our presence communicates health care need (which is blatantly obvious), and the leaders are offended that someone recognizes the extreme lack of health care among their constituents.
The administrator of this area of more than 22,000 residents (in the US she would be called the “mayor”) saw me in clinic and I diagnosed her with Diabetes and she was thrilled by our care, that we had meds to treat her and that we prayed for her during the consultation.
We’ve had three people in our area bitten by obviously rabid dogs in the past couple weeks. I drove each four hours to our municipality for their post-exposure vaccinations and have now ordered some privately purchased vaccines for future cases. This always-fatal disease is a very real problem in rural Angola and so often the vaccines are not available. I was grateful that they were available at this time in Cachiungo.
I’ve moved from a “Martha” culture to a “Mary” culture (see Luke 10:38-42). The western cultures have great difficulty is “finding” God in the midst of extreme business, infinite distraction and the “tyranny of the urgent”. There is never time to sit at Jesus’ feet and to build deep relationship with Him and with one’s neighbor. This is not the case in rural Angola, where there is lack of much, but always enough time for meditation, conversation and being still.
Jesus made a radical statement when He said to His followers that they couldn’t serve God and money. I have had the incredible privilege of seeing how much I served money (and what money can buy) when I lived in the states and what life is like without much of the distraction and busyness that always accompanies prosperity. The habits that I developed over many years of bowing to money/comfort/ambition for more (while walking with Jesus), have been easy to recognize since being placed within a culture with virtually no ability to pursue the “benefits” of material prosperity. These same habits have been difficult to break, as so much of my personal value had been based on what I accomplished (one of the many money gods).
Please consider today divorcing yourself from affluence and the pursuit of more. It is stealing abundant life from so many who truly want to follow Jesus and sadly don’t realize (while wondering what they are missing) that they are serving many gods while working so hard to push a camel through the eye of a needle…