During the early years after creation, following Adam’s rebellion against living in trust, he was told that life would be a battle, and that seen and unseen forces would conspire against him.  That this is a difficult life, filled with sweat and pain, couldn’t be more evident than in rural Angola and in many parts of the “developing world”.   In the west we often don’t directly feel this battle, because economic prosperity and distraction can mask the reality of the death, pain and decay that has remained unchanged since before the flood.


When soldiers are interviewed in the midst of a battle, they describe their experience in unmasked terms, such as confusion, hard, impossible, insecure, afraid, alone, burned out, inadequate, painful, giving up, despair, ill-equipped, overwhelmed, broken…


These terms would also describe life in rural Angola, as they would have in the days of Abel, Abraham, Moses and Jesus.  Nothing is new under the sun, except for the shiny, superficial veneer in the west that shrouds reality.   We experience pain and loss in the US but we’re often, especially within the church, embarrassed to live without an ever-present smile and the pretense that we are neither sweating nor hurting.


In Angola there is much labor, difficulty and loss and no masking the pain.  In my daily confrontation with so much suffering, I often experience despair, anger and hopelessness…


Then I’m reminded that the Kingdom of God, as presented in the bible and in the life of Jesus (and historically), offers not to remove the pain, but rather offers to us the ability to put this earthly reality into an eternal perspective.


From an earthly perspective, death, loss and pain have forever reigned and there is no hope for change (all has remained as is, for thousands of years).  All help and healing is temporary and pain and loss always return…


From an eternal perspective, however, all death, pain and loss is temporary and the healing, intimacy and rest for which our souls long will be found in the eternal Kingdom of our Father.


Because of the certainty of a wondrous eternal home that defied earthly description, Jesus told his followers to abandon their brief earthly lives, leave comforts and familiarity and go to those suffering.  But to enter into the sorrowful and tragic circumstances that overwhelm especially the economically depressed of this world (the majority), is to experience that which the soldiers in battle experience (above)… with incredible fatigue, because the needs of those hurting are tremendous and without end…


Our “battle” is endeavoring to open blind eyes to the reality of our Father’s eternal kingdom and to free captives to experience His presence and love in the midst of earthly sorrow and loss.


Our Father sends us to battle the darkness of confusion, ignorance and rebellion, but He also empowers us, through special gifts…


One of the most beautiful gifts that He gives to His children to give away and receive is the gift of encouragement.  I have lately been tired and discouraged, as this gift can be lacking in the isolation that often accompanies our work.   In a beautifully timely manner, though, I’ve been on the receiving end of this wondrous gift and what follows is a brief description of how our Father has used this gift to lift me “out of the pit” of the exhausting battle and to again trust in His eternal purposes, and to trust in His eternal hope rather than fixating on that which I see.


Vasco is an 80+ year old former pastor of the mission and Leprosarium at Cavango, before it was destroyed in 1976 during the 30+ years of civil war within Angola.  He took me aside twice last month and told me how pleased he was with all of the changes in the region since our arrival a couple years ago.  It was obvious that the whole purpose of these conversations was to encourage me and I was humbled and overjoyed to witness his joy.  He said that because of the work going on at the clinic/hospital, our (his) simple mission is serving people again.  People are traveling (often by foot) up to 100km to receive help because they have heard of so many people recovering.  He said that the mission is trusted again by the people he loves (the Nganguela tribe of central Angola).   He spoke longingly of working with Dr. Bob Foster in the 1970s and expressed to me gratitude that the clinic was again an instrument of God (like it was then), that he believes we had been sent by God, and that our service to the people of this region was an obvious indication that God hadn’t abandoned them and that He had responded to their prayers, spoken so often over these past 40-50 years.  A great way to encourage someone is to express gratitude for their life, their presence, their work, etc.  I was encouraged.


Lucas and Venâncio are two Angolan Jesus-lovers who are leading the medical outreach of one of the major denominations in Angola (UIEA) and the one most closely united with SIM (our beautiful sending organization).  The UIEA church was begun about 100 years ago by missionaries associated with a mission organization called AEF, which later united with several other organizations to become SIM.  These two men traveled 11 tough hours (in pouring rain over dirt “roads”) out to Cavango with Dr. Karen Henrikson, a gifted and wonderful fellow physician who has worked in another rural hospital/clinic in Angola for over 20 years (it was her first visit to our hospital).


Lucas and Venâncio toured our facility, sat with the community leaders, met with our hospital staff and spent a couple hours with me, learning all they could about our work.  Then, at the end of their 2-day stay, they directly and deliberately worked through a long list they had compiled of what we are doing well.  They marveled at our work and the way we are marrying medicine and the Kingdom and said that our work went far beyond their expectations, especially in a clinic without electricity and located so remotely.  They detailed how impressed they were at our simple clinic, pharmacy, cantina (very basic foods sold, at cost, for patients and their families), in-patient ward, TB ward, immunization program, etc and said that they couldn’t imagine the work and effort that has gone into the initiation and maintenance of it all.  I was encouraged.


About a week later, I met with Lucas in Lubango regarding two beautiful young men we are endeavoring to send to nursing school (most nurses in Angola are men).  These men have volunteered at our clinic over the past year and have demonstrated good work ethic, solid character, love for Jesus and for people, and a great willingness to learn.  As he was leaving our meeting, Lucas deliberately made a point to again go on and on about what a beautiful work we are doing in Cavango and how thrilled he was that we are a part of UIEA.  It was clear that he was intentionally trying to encourage me and, as we said good-bye, I was struck by how encouraged I was, how much I needed encouraged, and how little we (I) purposefully and soberly encourage one another in the church.


My wife has become an encourager.  Of course, there is no one in my life who has greater ability to encourage or discourage me.  Especially over the past several years, she has more boldly pointed out good things in our marriage, in our family and in our work.  Every encouraging word has a positive impact on me and so often her encouragement lands on an especially trying day.  As I’m confronted by so much loss and pain, I often struggle to remain positive, to continue to trust, to not grow weary, etc and her support has become foundational to my ability to continue to love and serve energetically in a difficult work environment.


Last week, Jeremias, my dear friend and the pastor of the small church in Cavango, came over to our house to talk with me and it soon became clear that he also wanted to point out all of the positive things that have occurred in Cavango in the past couple years and to express his gratitude for our effort and our presence there.  He has been moved by the denomination to a new area (they move pastors every 5 years) and, as I’m typing this, I am realizing that I need to go and see him when we return from the US to tell him again what an impact he has had on me and that his passion for Jesus has impacted so many.  He is a beautiful, beautiful man, and will be sorely missed.


Last week at our weekly meeting with the hospital staff, our clinic director, Florindo, took ten minutes to review the year (and all of the changes) for the purpose of encouraging me and thanking me for what we now have in Cavango.  His praise was extravagant, and this from a man who has worked the clinic for the past twenty years, always available, receiving no pay, virtually never having medicine, and seeing perhaps five patients/week.  He now works 100+ hour weeks, sees 30-60 people/day, never seems tired, and has an incredible heart to see hurting people helped.  He has told me many times that he is having a blast seeing people arrive at the clinic ill and leave well.  He said that in the past, he would comfort patients and offer supportive care in their death, because he simply didn’t have the knowledge or medication/tools to help.  He simply can’t wrap his mind around the success we now have, by simply applying good medical knowledge to a diagnosis and treatment.  He also has embraced learning all he can from me in order to improve his abilities and he and all four of the hospital workers so love seeing people get better (and learning) that I have a very difficult time getting them to go home.  They are all too familiar with what it was like to lack good medical care and they now so passionately love participating in the recovery of sick/injured people.  During the meeting, they all expressed great encouragement to me and communicated such gratitude for our presence in Cavango…  I was again so encouraged!


The leaders of the other church group (IECA) we work with in the desert southeast, through our flight ministry with MAF, met with me in November to extravagantly express their gratitude for our effort in helping the extremely remote (and desperate) peoples of this region.  They are kindred spirits devoted to helping the “least” that Jesus said were His priority, and their praise of our work left me quite encouraged.


These interactions each gave me the chance to describe the reality of our situation to those seeking to encourage me.  I explained that we are the hands of an incredibly beautiful body of supporters from the US, without whom we couldn’t be here.  It is a difficult concept for them to grasp when they haven’t had exposure to anything similar, but nothing in the Kingdom (especially in medical missionary work) is accomplished by individuals.  Our Father loves using a body of many parts to do His work.  The body of Jesus is beautiful to behold when functioning as it is in our work.  I want to encourage those of you who are our arms and feet, allowing us to touch so many hereTogether, we are making quite a difference in a few lives every day in rural Angola and we hope to continue to do so with you as long as we have the strength!


In addition, I recently struggled with a couple sick kids with critical illnesses and uncertain diagnoses and wrote a post on FB, asking for prayer (no update on either, at this point).  The overwhelming response of so many friends and acquaintances left me encouraged and feeling quite supported.  It isn’t uncommon for me to feel alone, especially when feeling overwhelmed, and one fruit of encouragement is the dissipation of this sense of battling alone.


Encouragement is a beautiful gift and especially necessary when living in the midst of suffering and difficulty.  Many around you today are facing difficulty, whether from illness, work, loss or simply the challenges that this fallen world so often presents.  Whom can you encourage today?  Who needs word of our Father’s presence and eternal hope?  Who needs your embrace and assurance that they are not alone?  Let’s remember again the beauty of the gift of encouragement and give it away today to someone in need…


As we watch 2015 draw to a close, please be encouraged that, though this world often leaves us hurting and despairing, our hope is in Jesus, who came as a baby in a manger, overcame death, and is now preparing an eternal home for those who are His…


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