In our monthly travels to the unbearably hot (over 100F in our clinic rooms), desert southeastern part of the country, we sweat through many meetings with many leaders. We meet with the administrators (mayors) of each municipality (principal towns in the province) each month at the beginning and at the end of the trip. At the beginning, we share what we are planning to do and ask for their input and direction as to where/how to serve and we also seek their feedback from past trips (always quite positive). Then at the end of the trip, we share what we did during our week of work. Through these meetings, they are honored and remain informed about our activities. In so many ways, the war seems like yesterday and there is always suspicion about activity by foreigners, so to keep the leaders in the loop about all of our activity is wise.
The country is divided into provinces, provinces govern municipalities, municipalities govern comunas (main villages), which govern the aldeias (villages). We also try to meet with the soba, or chief, of each village in which we work (mostly we work in the comunas, larger aldeias (“aldayas”) where they have health posts – which are usually minimally functional…). These meetings take frustrating amounts of time, but I’ve seen great value in communicating our vision to these leaders, and doing so repetitively.
Communicating vision is hugely valuable for any leader (as is meeting together with his/her team) and in our itinerant work here, we come as a team, develop a team of local workers, and join the already-present local health care team. Because we are all human and because there are multiple teams represented, repetition (and multiple meetings) helps for accuracy in communication. We communicate our vision and our passion over and over to these leaders (and to ourselves) and each meeting gives all of us further opportunity to develop relationship (Kingdom connections). They are getting to know us well, and it is quite satisfying to have our Kingdom vision embraced and accurately stated back to us during the conversations with these secular leaders!
I’m learning (again) that we cannot forget the importance of time spent together in the building of any relationship (or team). In our (my) arrogance, we (I) expect relationship and trust to develop without time together and repeated communication of vision/passion. But true relationship needs trust and understanding, and trust and understanding need time…
In what relationships in your work life and/or home life are you forgetting that closer relationships involving trust require (always) time and (more) communication?
While in the Mavinga area (in the southeast) in October, we drove about an hour from Mavinga to several villages where we held clinics. We fly into the small town of Mavinga and then drive to smaller villages to hold our clinics. We drove through former battlegrounds from the war fought 10-20 years ago, where there are still areas filled with bunkers and trenches dug by soldiers for the purpose of “holing up” during periods of intense conflict. I felt quite uncomfortable as we drove by these places of concealment on two sides of a large river (in this area of vast desert) that was the principal prize for many battles. I simply cannot imagine what it would be like to be in these trenches during a battle, and many men working with us had personally experienced the conflict of just a few years ago. I look at these men in admiration, not only for having survived, but also for having survived with such beautiful, servant hearts. They speak of their experiences in the war with sobriety and great respect, but, in typical Angolan fashion, they have moved beyond the trauma and pain to a new season.
In one of our clinics in an outlying village, an older man arrived for a consultation and was introduced as the “king”. He was the Ganguela tribal king of SE Angola and was about 80 years old, barefoot and otherwise dressed simply. He spoke with a deep voice and with a certainty that one would expect from a leader. He exuded kindness and communicated in such a way that made me feel important. He was focused on our conversation and not distracted or rushed (like I would picture a man with so many responsibilities).
I was to learn that in the governmental hierarchy in Angola, the king rules over his people in a (large) region, including over the governmental officials. This man was the equivalent of a ruler over several states in the US and it was such a pleasure to interact with him. I can’t remember his medical issue, but he paid for his medicine like everyone else and wanted no special treatment. Like so many of the people here, this very relaxed king reeked of humility and an “other-focus”. My pride and self-centeredness are challenged daily by the humble community-mindedness of these beautiful, rural people.
We’ve had two older men visit our Cavango clinic this week, both unable to urinate more than a few drops at a time for several weeks. I remember once traveling in a small plane from Ft Lauderdale to Cap Haitian, Haiti and having a full bladder for about three hours and thinking that I couldn’t imagine greater discomfort. These men tolerated such discomfort for more than a week, ending up in renal failure that will likely kill them both. They (and their whole village) didn’t realize there were treatment options. When they arrived, one received a normal catheter easily and the other received a catheter put into his bladder through his abdomen. Both experienced instant relief and had they come in earlier, both would have survived well. As it is, they are both alive, but in serious condition, as we wait to see if their kidneys can recover. There are so many men over 60 years of age who must wake up 5-10 times/night to pee a few drops because of the enlargement of the prostate gland, a normal development in the life of all men. In the states, life is prolonged by a relatively simple surgery to allow urine to pass the prostate more easily. Here, older men have long nights and shortened lives.
I interviewed a woman in our clinic who said that a year ago, for the same pain, she had visited a hospital in a city two days journey from where she lived. Her complaint was a common one here, pain between her shoulder blades, down her back and into her neck (they daily carry so much weight on their heads). She was told by a “doctor” that she had a snake-like creature living in her back, and when it moved, she hurt in her back and when it bit her, she hurt in her neck (where the head was). I would imagine that the doctor spoke of her muscles in her back and that her interpretation included a snake because her back muscles felt like a snake to her. All illness here is understood in terms that have meaning to the rural person. Virtually all illness, for example, in some way involves the activity of inner “bichos” (beeshoos). Bichos can be insects or small animals. Bichos in the abdomen, bichos in the back, bichos in the eyes, bichos in the head… Rarely do I have someone describe their symptoms without including what the bichos are doing inside of them (of course, sometimes they are correct!).
I’ve been thinking lately about historic Christianity and the lives of Jesus-followers. Does our relationship with God improve our circumstances? Does it benefit the Christian, his/her family, or his/her community/culture to walk with God? What did it do for the earthly life of Jesus, John the Baptist, Paul, Peter, Stephen… Does God cause circumstances to favor His people? Or does He confront various kinds of darkness through His people (light)? We’ve seen our missionary colleagues in Angola face the following circumstances:
- A missionary couple here has two daughters and both girls while in their teens and going to school in their home country, joined a cult which prohibits them from having any contact with their parents. These beautiful people who are our dear friends have had no contact with their only kids for years.
- Our missionary colleague with three young kids lost her young husband to a brain tumor
- The young and healthy missionary father of five young kids had a routine surgery, experienced complications and died, leaving his wife and kids.
- One of our missionary colleagues was robbed, stabbed and left for dead in critical condition last year.
- A missionary mother of several missionaries had a stroke 6 years ago and has lived essentially as a “vegetable” in the home of the missionaries for all this time. They have faithfully cared for their mom for this whole time, feeding her, bathing her, conversing with her (one-sided conversations)…
- A missionary couple and their family left the US to come to Angola to build runways and the govt has refused to grant permission, even extravagantly fining them (and us) for trying to do the same, and they are returning to the US after giving three years of their life (one year of language study in Portugal) and completing no runways in Angola.
- A missionary couple dreamed and prepared for many years, left all the comforts of the west, and began developing a beautiful Kingdom work in rural Angola, living in tents while building a simple house. An illness then powerfully struck one of them, sending them to the US for medical care. Because of the medical condition, they may be unable to serve overseas again, though it is their passion to do so.
- A missionary pastor friend who has devoted his life to helping rural people in Angola was driving a team into the interior to help a rural, isolated people group, and drove over a land mine, blowing up the back of the car, killing three and wounding four. He was uninjured and waited with these for a day and a half for help to arrive.
- Another missionary pastor friend has a five-year-old son with severe sickle cell anemia. My friend will watch his beautiful son die through many painful crises over the next several years.
- One of our missionary colleagues on the field was diagnosed with cancer, forcing her return to the US.
- One of our missionary families, running low on support funds, returned to the US to raise support and have been unable to do so, leaving unfulfilled what they believe is their calling from God.
“Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground. All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us.” (Heb 11)
Pleasure, difficulty, satisfaction, success, frustration, failure and loss come and go in this life for everyone, but we have today the opportunity to develop an eternal relationship with our Father and to influence others to the same… We have the opportunity to respond as Light to all of the darkness that comes our way…
A life surrendered to God is not an easier life, it is a surrendered life. It’s not fuller, happier or more satisfying… It’s surrendered…