I recently visited a village several hours away and a man came jogging toward me with a huge smile on his face. As he neared, I saw that his face was quite scarred and somewhat deformed, especially around one eye. As he began shaking my hand profusely, I vaguely remembered him from last year. He had crashed his motorbike into a tree and arrived in our clinic a bloody mess, especially his face and scalp full of lacerations and abrasions. We treated him with sutures and dressing changes for about two weeks and his wounds healed well, but he was left quite scarred. Any form of physical attractiveness he may have possessed prior to the accident was now gone. But as he smiled, embraced and thanked me, I thought he might be the most beautiful man in the crowd. There is nothing more beautiful than a genuine smile that radiates from a joyful heart!
I thought the same about Rosaria last month. She was dealing with deforming Leprosy and a child with incapacitating hydrocephalus. Yet, she radiated joy at every interaction. Her sober joy surprised me, and virtually everyone who encountered her was left with a smile and an appreciation for this woman’s spirit. She also usually left behind some of her joy! Her circumstances certainly weren’t joyful, but it was obvious, after spending some time with her, that her focus was always on bringing joy to another. At the airport on her way home, this scarred lady, carrying her bandaged little girl, introduced herself to the others waiting near her and she was all about them and who they were and where they were going… In a matter of minutes, these “strangers” were “embraced” by Rosaria and their revealing smiles revealed her affect on them.
This barefoot, dirty woman from rural nowhere in torn and stained clothes, facing tragic circumstances, impacted me deeply and I look forward to traveling to her home in the next months to see her. She demonstrated that it isn’t our sense of humor or our happy mask that impacts people, but it’s our genuine joy that can be contagious and “transmitted” to another. Our joy in another affirms their value and warms a cold and lonely heart. It is similar to how knowing Jesus transforms us. Nothing “lifts my spirit” more than remembering my Father’s joy in me…
The ways that we can deeply impact people – serving them, expressing our joy in them, affirming them… require little skill, talent, knowledge or intelligence…
We are nearing the end of our rainy season and the flies are horrendous. They hound the local folks much more than me simply because of personal hygiene. These folks, of course, rarely bathe or use soap, toilet paper, toothpaste, etc. Especially the kids are covered by the flies because upper respiratory viruses are making the rounds in the region and the kids are never without a snotty nose/face (without available tissues, their noses rarely get wiped). They never seem too bothered, however, by the flies. It’s amazing what humans can tolerate and become accustomed to. I certainly don’t help matters by giving each kid a sucker, which ends up everywhere in just a few minutes…
We have been averaging about 70 vaccinations, one day weekly, to kids that will now not experience pertussis, tetanus, measles, polio, hepatitis, etc. The program has been quite successful and so many in this region will benefit and never fully realize what they were spared from by receiving the vaccines. We will now try to take advantage of our captive audience and weekly share some instruction on physical and spiritual health.
Please pray for this region. We have rabid dogs and many human bites. We’ve exhausted our reserve of rabies vaccines and feel quite helpless because the government supply doesn’t work and people are still coming to us with wounds from unprovoked bites from “sick” dogs.
Ben recently overcame pneumonia and never became critically ill because we were able to begin treatment early. He experienced the same a month ago when hit with malaria and we began treatment the first day of symptoms. No one in rural Angola can see a doctor when concerning symptoms begin. The cost for a visit to a doctor here is not only financial, but also one of time and effort beyond what people in the west could relate to. Virtually everyone we see at our clinic has walked for several hours and up to 3 days, while a few come in by motorbike (30 min to several hours). Often a person with these two illnesses quickly becomes too ill to travel. Everyone we see has had symptoms for at least several days as they decided whether the illness was severe enough to make the journey. Combine this with the fact that they are a very tough people, and they often wait too long.
Now many years ago, one of my many motives for wanting to help people in economically depressed cultures was imagining that my kids were ill or hurt (and I wasn’t a doctor) and I had nowhere to take them for help. I couldn’t imagine or tolerate the thought, and dreamed that maybe at least I could help a few less parents in the world find themselves in that position.
I feel the same about my Father. I want to tell people about who Jesus is in the same way that I desire my kids to know who He is. People need to know His love and grace for them apart from religion. Sadly, the majority of the world sees Christianity as a religion (doctrines, teachings, rules, rituals, etc) instead of relationship with the person of Jesus. I can help change that for a few… They will accept or reject Him, but I want to see everyone’s child have the opportunity to know the Truth and to have His love demonstrated for them in real and practical ways. Perhaps through me a few might know Him…
Ben was also baptized with 15 others in a water hole near our village. It was a beautiful, simple, sober ceremony, and one that is not yet taken for granted here. It was still within this generation that Angola was under communist rule and such activity was illegal and punishable. Ben approached the event with a mature perspective and His heart to surrender to his real Father has greatly encouraged his dad.
Our morning discussions at the clinic have been averaging nearly 60 people and most of those who join us seem quite engaged. I speak in Portuguese and one of our nurses translates into Ganguela. We typically share about something that can improve one’s physical health and something about our Father’s Kingdom (spiritual health). It is such a beautiful way to begin the day, giving an ever-rotating small group of people (patients and their families) an opportunity to think about health and to discuss a passage from our Father’s letters to us. Most of these rich stories/parables/passages from the bible have not been heard/read by this predominantly illiterate population.
Churches in this region are sparse, small and mainly take the form of simple community gatherings, with very little passion for walking with the One who gave them life and desires intimacy with them. It’s such a humble privilege to daily sit with this group (a different group every day) and share both a tip on improving physical health and a story/passage/truth about our Father’s Kingdom.
We have two new beautiful young men working with us in the clinic, as we needed the extra help with the recent increased volume of consultations and admissions and it is their first time working in health care. One is Moises, a mature, humble and gifted 27 year old, and as we were walking together one day from the clinic to my house, I was asking him about his family, his past and his work in the clinic and whether the clinic work was difficult for him. He said, “Everything is difficult at first, but nothing remains difficult with a little practice and experience.” Such wisdom…
If we can maintain the humility of a learner and appreciate the reality/necessity of gaining experience (giving ourselves and others permission to fail and make mistakes), we will grow into that which now seems overwhelming. How often we are encouraged by simple words from a friend! I needed to hear Moises’ reminder of the huge value of learning, failure and patience and perhaps you need the same reminder today?
In my last post, I wrote about Rosaria (mentioned above) and her daughter. While at the Lubango airport, waiting for the MAF plane preparation, she told me she needed to urinate. I had to quickly decide whether to send her outside of this modern airport terminal to find a patch of grass (all open and no concealed areas) or to send her to the modern bathroom with running water, flushing toilets, toilet paper, etc, all of which she had never experienced. At Cavango, we installed what the local folks call a “scientific” latrine (flushing toilet), as well as “normal” latrines (a pit, covered by a floor with a hole in it). They think the scientific toilet is so funny. Rosaria went outside in (exposed) comfort.
I got hit a couple weeks ago with my toughest bout of Malaria yet. Two weeks prior I had slept in a room full of mosquitoes in Mavinga during our exploration trip to the southeast of the country and was too tired to care. It was hot and I didn’t want DEET to make me even warmer so I just sprayed it in my ears and crashed. I paid dearly for this it-won’t-happen-to-me-indiscretion. How often we cause pain for ourselves or for another because we allow how we feel to direct our actions, instead of what we know is wise/healthy. In this situation, I suffered consequences from my lack of wisdom, as did the patients that came to our hospital during the two days I was horizontal. No decision we make, whether wise or foolish, affects only us. How often I am Esau and my immediate gratification costs me and/or someone else in the long-term.
This was another blatant manifestation of my still-present, self-pleasing nature (“all is vanity”). It is with me all day, every day and constantly pits itself against what is wise, good, and healthy for me and for others. The battle within of wise vs unwise, healthy vs unhealthy, me-focused vs other-focused, God’s will vs my will, etc rages continually. One would think that after so much time and experience, the battle would be easier. It isn’t. Perhaps it’s easier once one leaves house and home for His sake? It isn’t. The daily battle to walk closely with our unseen Father, even when He has “revealed” Himself to me so many times and in so many ways, is… a battle.
The good news of my Father’s grace is no less significant to me now than it was thirty years ago. My nature is still contrary to Him. I am still screwed up in so many ways. I am still not “good” and I’m often indifferent, rebellious, distracted and unaware. But Him? He is beautiful… and more beautiful to me today than thirty years ago, because for thirty years He has forgiven me, cleansed me, given me umpteen new beginnings, picked me up, lifted my head, directed me, rescued me, encouraged me, embraced me… My heart is full of worship this morning because of who He is, not who I am. When I look at myself, my work, the world’s mess and pain, the evil all around me, the way people are treated by others… I can become quite discouraged. But when I look at Him… what joy!
“…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus…” (Heb12)
I still make unwise decisions and I pay the consequences, sometimes with shaking fever and chills. No matter who we are, we reap what we sow. Those around us also are erring every day. Whether conscious of it or not, they are struggling in the same battle and, like us, they often miss the mark. We can be critical, angry or irritated… or we can be people of grace, for ourselves and for those who offend, ignore or wound us… because we have received such grace (unearned favor) and it has transformed our soul!
As I consider this situation, I’m reminded, too, to make choices today based on wisdom, rather than on what I might feel at the moment.