I made a home medical visit with Marijn, one of our beautiful MAF pilots, who has befriended this man in Lubango. He lives in the middle of town, in a mud-walled “house” consisting of one room that measures about 2 x 1 meters. We sat in broken chairs and I found myself interacting with such a pleasant man, who was suffering from completely debilitating hip arthritis. During our conversation, 3 rats scurried around his cooking utensils just outside his door. He also had several cockroaches crawling on his pants, shirt and neck and he flicked at them like I would a fly. They bothered him little.
Our nurses stack up the charts of patients to be seen and pull the next chart to be seen from the bottom of the pile.
Ministry has a way of waxing and waning, in and out of seasons of “hot” and “cold”… At our daily morning discussions at the clinic, we have been experiencing some beautiful, engaging, interactive discussions with interested, hungry participants in great numbers (30-60 adults each day). Because of patients arriving and being discharged daily, the people making up the morning group are never the same day-to-day. It has been a delight. One morning during our discussion on spiritual health, we discussed the birth of Jesus and the angels’ appearance to the shepherds. There was much discussion on this particular subject, especially on encountering angels and how God chose lowly, simple shepherds (people that these rural folks identify with) to announce His coming. When I asked for any closing thoughts, a man of about 50 said that the shepherds were so privileged to experience such a direct encounter from God and, in the same way, God has demonstrated His love for the people of this region by directly sending a doctor who is accessible to them, and not only a doctor, but someone who treats each person with humility and respect (in a land where customer service and “Do unto others…” are not valued, the very few doctors here are aloof and arrogant), and one who teaches God’s word to them in a way that they can understand (his words). He was the father of a very ill daughter, recuperating from pneumonia, and he had joined us several mornings. He was sharp and hungry and was obviously being stirred by our Father. His words were great encouragement for me when the well was feeling dry.
My dear friend, André (not his real name), was sharing about the Angolan government and some of the ongoing political strife that has been left over from the long civil war that ended 12 years ago. He became teary-eyed when speaking of the dream of democracy, where the opinion of the common folk can be heard and where freedom is valued. Control and order are valued here over freedom and it can be oppressive and paralyzing for the poor majority. It is truly difficult to appreciate the incredible value of messy freedom until one lives in a country lacking the same. It’s sad for me to hear, from Angola, the political rhetoric in the US trend more and more toward control and equality of outcome, rather than freedom and equality of opportunity.
We are facing a pediatric challenge this month as we have Rotavirus, Influenza, and Malaria hitting the communities in this region at the same time. All present with fever and a variety of other symptoms and, because they wait so long to come in, we are admitting about one of every three consultations with severe dehydration, pneumonia, or complicated Malaria. 75%-80% of our inpatients are children under the age of five. In rural Angola, 1/3 children die before the age of 5 years and, during this season, it’s easy to see why. Diarrhea, pneumonia and malaria are three of the principal killers of these kids. Remarkably, we’ve had no deaths in several months, treating many that would require ICU monitoring (our clinic has no electricity). Many of the parents have a sense of how remarkable this is, many do not. It sure makes my work enjoyable to daily see kids survive these often deadly illnesses. I am so often worshipping the Healer throughout my “rounds” as I see improvement after improvement… All of you who support our efforts here, please join me in rejoicing that we, together, are our Father’s hands and feet in rural Angola, because it is truly remarkable work.
A 57 year old woman stood up in our little church service last Sunday and excitedly told her story, one of chronic, incapacitating back pain for years. She had visited our clinic a few days before and said she was experiencing pain-free walking for the first time in years. She was thrilled and praised the fact that she could visit a doctor in this area (she “only” traveled 4hr by motor bike to see us) and be prayed for to top it off. She was quite a joy, and obviously grateful for her improvement.
We are going through Jesus’ time in the wilderness (Luke 4) this week in our morning discussion at the clinic with our 20+ inpatients and their families. The temptations of Jesus in the wilderness have been well studied and it seems obvious that his enemy tempted Him exactly as his minions tempt us today.
As I think of this passage this morning, I am struck by how the modern American “church” (including me) has sadly succumbed to the first temptation where the devil says to a fasting and hungry Jesus that because He is the Son of God, He should turn stone to bread and eat. So many have bought this “entitlement” temptation hook, line and sinker, while completely missing Jesus’ response. The deception rests in the enemy’s twisted use of the line, “Because God is your Father” or “Because you are a child of God”. Because of your relationship with God, you have earthly rights and entitlements… you should have health and prosperity… you should not want for anything (sounds biblical)… your earthly desires should always be met… you should not experience illness, loss, pain (hunger/lack of bread), but if you do experience illness or affliction, and pray (to your Father, who loves you and can do anything), you will be healed and/or the situation resolved…
From the God-is-at-my-beck-and-call perspective of much of today’s American “church”, one can understand the draw of this reasoning (supported by a host of bible verses), but hungry and homeless Jesus responded by essentially saying that there is so much more to life than one’s wants and needs, that man isn’t satisfied in having his earthly desires met and that seeking earthly satisfaction is not mankind’s principal pursuit.
Jesus people no longer “want” not because our wants are given to us by our Father (the message of many preachers), but rather because we are so committed to our relationship with God (and surrendered to Him) that our earthly wants grow dim in the light of our passionate pursuit of Him. We develop a godly carelessness about satisfying self as we seek first His kingdom, and we rarely pray for personal “bread” because we are so preoccupied with others lack of “bread” and with our Father’s heart to be known by those who don’t know Him.
Many Christians today live what they consider a “biblical” life (going to church, being nice, helping others, praying, reading their bible…) and yet know little of peace and joy (the fruit of the spirit has nothing to do with earthly circumstances). They ignorantly miss the enemy’s deception (that was clearly outlined in Jesus’ wilderness encounter) and agree with the enemy that they should not experience hunger and should always have “bread”. They think that, because they are a “new creature”, they will be happy/content/satisfied and, because they now belong to God, circumstances will favor them (they think this is “abundant life”). Disillusionment follows because reality never lines up with this theology…
Kingdom life, however, is exactly the opposite! As He did with His Son, our Father chooses earthly difficulty for those that are His! He sends His beloved into battle, into circumstantial tribulation, difficulty and darkness, into pain and into discomfort for the sake of those that He loves who are wandering in the darkness and haven’t yet encountered the Light. It’s when Jesus-people worship and follow God in humility, weakness, brokenness and loss, that our Father is truly glorified in our works, causing hungry people to take notice and seek out His Light. What passionate Jesus-lovers “gain” is disregard for their own ambitions, disregard for their own success, and disregard for their own comfort. They become concerned about others’ gain and become burdened with compassion toward those hurting. They embrace living with less so that others can have more. They go to where there is need, with disregard for their personal “security”, safety and happiness. They don’t ask their Father to satisfy their hunger and they aren’t consumed with their own wants and health because they “take no thought” of their temporal desires so that their lives can be consumed by responding to the hunger and loneliness of their friends and enemies (Kingdom love). They know whose they are and where they are going, and this enables them to have no earthly concern for “bread”.
The deceptive, enemy-driven, self-focused, bread-entitlement, ear-tickling message that is powerfully evangelizing South America and Africa (some of the world’s most vulnerable and “hungry” populations) is gaining many followers and church-goers, while adding zero surrendered Jesus-lovers.
Please know today, that if you are facing earthly affliction, illness, loss, or tragedy, you have been placed in a position of great potential usefulness to your Father and others. For a short season, you’ve been chosen to enter the cold darkness of pain and/or loss, to radiate warmth, light and your Father’s presence where it is not expected. Your response to your pain (seen by those around you) gives evidence that light (even a little) is so much more powerful and beautiful than darkness.
In one thousand years your painful, tragic circumstances will look differently as you embrace your once-lost loved one, as you are embraced by someone who saw Jesus when he saw you walk with Him through your earthly pain and loss… and as you are embraced by another that met Jesus because you could relate to her brokenness and hunger and truly care…