Evangelism, Credibility, Trust…

 

We recently had several minor trauma cases arrive early one morning. A young man was chopping down a tree with his machete the previous day and the tree moved on him, his machete slipped and struck his knee, right at the medial (inner) joint line and a surgeon couldn’t have made a cleaner cut, right into the joint. He lost blood and joint fluid and cut his medial collateral ligament. We washed his joint with copious water, I sewed his joint space and his skin, treated him with antibiotics, and he’s doing well. One day in follow-up, however, he flexed his knee forcefully while I was with him and joint fluid squirted a full three feet!

 

Another young man fell off of his motorbike, lacerating his quadriceps tendon above his patella (knee cap). He came in five days later, his whole leg quite infected, both within and outside of his knee joint, unable to bend his knee, even slightly. We cleaned him up and sewed together what we could, and hammered him with antibiotics and when we returned from a trip to Lubango a week later, he walked up to me beaming, with complete range of motion. I had told him that it was quite unlikely that he would recover without major knee surgery. Of course, we had asked our Father to touch him… The Wind…

 

A one-year-old boy came in with a “broken leg” for about a week. His parents didn’t know what happened but, sure enough, his femur was quite deformed and surely broken. We used the ultrasound to identify the “break” and instead of a break, we found a large pocket of pus around the bone, causing the deformity in his thigh. We drained perhaps a half of a cup of pus from this little leg and he improved radically over the next few days, but sadly the infection had spread to the bone and he will need surgery to clean up the infected bone to fully recover, if a surgeon can spare his leg. We will take him to Huambo this week.

 

On my recent trip home to Cavango (there are no bathroom stops), I needed to make a visit to the woods and searched the car for some toilet paper and I had a moment of panic until I found some. As I was walking into the woods, I realized again that no one here uses the stuff and historically humans haven’t used toilet paper until quite recently. At one of our recent morning discussions on health (we talked about worms), it took quite some discussion to convince the group of about 40 adults that putting our waste in a hole in the ground (simple latrine) would spare others of the worm eggs in our stool. This is a population of people who have no concept of parasites and eggs. They know they have worms (we all do – mostly they’re harmless), but they have no idea where they come from…

 

This demonstrates the issue of trust in medical care.   Why should they believe me? Only over time, and much demonstrated care, will they believe that my “theories” and treatments are correct and to be believed/received. Only my care for them (love), my character, my words, and testimonies from others, will convince some…  Our numbers at the clinic are increasing steadily, so trust in the region in our medical care seems to be growing…

 

This is the essence of evangelism and making disciples, and this is why time is necessary. When we teach about earthly or eternal life, our character and care validate our message, and a serious seeker must have good reason to listen. The desperation of the seeker, or the life of the speaker, gives credibility (good reason) to the message. No message is valid without credibility and the greater the cost or risk required by the message (following Jesus requires abandoning one’s life), the more necessary the credibility of the message. In this culture that doesn’t deal with diplomas and learning credibility, the life/reputation of the messenger is the only source of credibility available. The U.S. is realizing that diplomas and degrees offer only a superficial, first step in credibility. When choosing medical care, good references with a diploma indicate quality of care more than a diploma alone. When choosing a pastor, seminaries and diplomas are a “dime a dozen”. A pastor can believe/teach virtually anything today and label it as “biblical” or “Christian”. Character and experience (not charisma or diplomas) offer the only real credibility of value to a genuine seeker…

 

Evangelism… Just 15 years ago, I would never have believed that life could be so rich without material “stuff” (of course, I would have said otherwise because I was a “christian”). Then I witnessed the lives of those we live among in rural Angola. I never realized how materialistic I was until I lived here (the lives of these folks provide a contrast that allows me to see me). I have been “evangelized” by seeing how rich life can be without the material things that we “need” in the U.S. I have embraced more and more their manner of living, quite apart from anything they have said. These folks not only live life more richly than me, they thrive in simplicity (though materialism still holds an attraction, especially for the youth – see below). Their lives are not easy, but neither are lives full of materialistic pursuits. Both are challenging, but which is full of superficial distractions and which is fuller? I have been evangelized, by the beauty of “possessing nothing”, into living without the bondage of material possessions. In the western church, we have forfeited so much of the Kingdom in our pursuit of temporal, material wealth and comfort…

 

There is no greater example of “evangelism” than that of the west in regards to materialism (only that which is material/physical matters). We are evangelizing the rest of the world to materialism, and preaching with our lives that our shiny, destructive, distracted lifestyles are best… and the world is sadly, for the most part, buying it.

 

The church in the west models that materialism, comfort, and technology are “life”. Our words preach Jesus and our lives (our house, our work, our technology, our mode of transportation, our clothes, etc.) preach materialism…

 

A young woman presented to us with abdominal pain and fever. As I was examining her, I found her vagina stuffed with plant material (a common practice here). We cleaned it out and the next day, she lost consciousness and remained in a coma for several days (she spoke this morning). She likely has Toxic Shock Syndrome, which can occur when a body cavity is filled and bacteria grow to dangerous levels and their toxins enter the body.

 

It’s easy to be critical, but… What would you do if you had no one to go to for medical help? You would likely, in desperation, allow anyone with purported expertise to “treat” you, especially if it was someone you trusted (or someone trusted by someone you trusted…). In the U.S. we cannot even imagine being in this situation, which is a daily reality for most of the world’s population…

 

We see so many examples here of the harm of “traditional medicine” (unstudied, non-reproducible, “all-natural” treatments) whereby various, unproven remedies are tried because of the vacuum of scientific, reproducible medical care. Mankind is ever seeking to improve health, especially if there is potential profit (note the “all-natural”, “health” market in the U.S.), but the beauty of medical science is its reproducibility. Seeing the consequences of unproven “traditional medicine”, I have gained such appreciation for this reproducibility of medical studies/results, something I took quite for granted while in the U.S.

 

When someone arrives from a different part of the world and looks differently, eats differently, dresses differently, speaks differently and lives differently, it is human nature (and, to a degree, wise) to be greeted with some suspicion. With all of the suspicion that we are currently facing in Cavango (for exactly these reasons), especially from the governmental leaders, there has been much local conversation about our motives and why we are here.

 

A fascinating story that we have heard recently is about the suspicion generated by missionaries in this region in the 1960s and 1970s. They drove cars and no one here had ever met someone who drove cars or who regularly traveled great distances. Because this mission was so far from any cities, when these missionaries traveled, they would, like us, typically arrive after nightfall and leave before sunrise. We have been told that the local people could not understand why anyone would travel in the dark. To us it makes perfect sense, in that a full day’s travel necessitates leaving early and arriving late. To the local people, who do nothing in the dark (especially travel) except sit by the fire and sleep, it was entirely reasonable to be curious and suspicious of something they didn’t understand. They became convinced that the only reason that these missionaries would arrive and depart in the dark was that they must have been hiding something. Even though they loved their health work, they suspected that the missionaries were either bringing in something secret or taking out something they wanted to hide. The same has been suspected of us, as the authorities are convinced that our health care work is a front for personal gain. They haven’t found out what that might be, but someone relocating here only to help makes no sense to them…

 

Please continue to pray for us. We want to be where light confronts darkness, but it isn’t easy, and this weekend I’ve felt pretty spent… We know that conflict and confrontation are often catalysts that stimulate positive change in a relationship. Like anything volatile, however, they can be powerfully constructive or powerfully destructive. We know that it is not our Father’s heart to never confront injustice and neither is it His heart to always be confrontational. To know when and how to confront injustice requires more wisdom (and energy) than we have and we need His Spirit’s guidance and wisdom in every encounter with the authorities… We had another surprise visit today… every encounter… We are averaging about two surprise visits from governmental authorities per week… every encounterHis guidance, His energy, His wisdom…

 

We are so grateful for those of you on our team, who have sent us to where there is much darkness and injustice, and where there are abundant, real, desperate physical/temporal needs… in people just like you and me. We are daily sharing with them about our Father’s Kingdom, and our credibility in regards to our message of this unseen, eternal Kingdom is based on how we care for their real, seen/felt temporal needs…

 

It’s always been this way… It’s our Father’s primary way of using His people to turn ashes to beauty…

 

In meeting desperate, seen/felt earthly needs, those hurting often become open to Jesus’ unseen, eternal Kingdom. Jesus told a man and the group with him (Mk 2) that He could forgive sin (eternal need), but to demonstrate that He could do this, He cared for the man’s physical infirmity and healed him…

 

For whom can you express care and concern today?

 

One comment

  1. What an amazing calling, and may the joy of it pour through and energize you . I pray for more blessings to your souls, and protection of your lives and work.

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