Miracle, Blame, Two Men, Purposes…


The mosquitos in Mavinga and Rivungo have been so thick over the last couple of months that there has been a shrill whine in my sleeping room (I sleep in a small mesh tent lying on a mattress) from dusk to dawn and any clothes hung in the room during the night have been full of hundreds of mosquitos by daybreak.


Before our clinic began this morning in a remote village about an hour drive from Mavinga, Meera (see below) led a discussion about improving our physical and spiritual health and shared that Canada has no malaria.  A local government health care worker (who hasn’t had meds in her government health post for over a year and who hasn’t been paid for 18 months, yet works every day trying to help the sick in any way she can think of…) remarked that she couldn’t imagine living where malaria wasn’t a constant threat to the people of her village.  She exclaimed that life without malaria “would be a miracle”.  In our small hospital in Cavango, we had 12 children arrive in coma from cerebral malaria in just the last two weeks.  All survived without sequelae except one, but we serve such a small area and almost all of the rest of Angola lacks our basic medical treatment…


A two-day-old infant arrived in Cavango last week with his parents concerned that he wasn’t nursing.  This is, of course, always a legitimate concern that warrants investigation as it could be due to life-threatening causes (here most commonly congenital malaria).  The child had a sluggish, stiff suck reflex and abnormal muscle spasms in his arms and we asked about the labor and delivery.  The child was literally born in a field (rural Angolans spend almost all of their daylight hours in their fields during the rainy season) without difficulty and the cord was cut with a common knife wiped clean with cloth prior to use (they made a good effort to clean the knife).  These symptoms indicated that neonatal tetanus was the diagnosis (no way to definitively confirm) and the child succumbed to the illness within a few days.  Cause of death – clean, non-sterile knife contaminated by tetanus from the soil combined with an unvaccinated mom.  As with so many deaths in the developing world, it is very difficult to assess specific blame and most commonly the ones who suffer bear little or no responsibility for the outcome.


On our arrival to the town of Mavinga this week, we were greeted by stories of much recent destruction by wild elephants in the villages of the Mavinga region.  The damage continues this year because last year the region experienced severe drought, causing the elephants to raid gardens and planted fields, eating “domestic” crops that otherwise wouldn’t be appealing.  Much food was lost to elephants last year, causing much human hunger and this year they are returning to the same fields (the storied elephant memory!), even though rain and wild food is plentiful.  There is nothing the villagers can do, as the elephants have no fear of people (who don’t have guns).  They literally watch all of their months of field preparation, planting and weeding (by hand) disappear into the mouths of these elephants…


We have a new medical challenge in Cavango in a 12 year-old with Insulin-dependent Diabetes.  He needs twice-daily injections, diet instructions, glucose monitoring and education and we have limited time and staff, no refrigeration for the insulin (it lasts up to 3x longer refrigerated), we are 4-5 hours from a pharmacy (to regularly replace two types of insulin), and we have limited syringes and material for glucose monitoring.  This is combined with the family’s complete lack of understanding of the nature and seriousness of the disease…  They arrive at all hours for the 8a and 6p insulin injections, they repeatedly use the same needle (nothing in their life is ever used once and thrown away), they don’t understand the purpose of wiping with alcohol prior to the injection, and they visibly struggle with whether they should believe me or the error-filled instructions they were given by friends.  Everyone has an opinion, everyone enthusiastically passes on what they “know”, and everyone is “right” in their own eyes (characteristics of human beings outside of the US, as well).  We currently have the insulin stored in a meter-deep hole, accessible by a rope twice daily…


Sometimes we all wonder about our impact and little encounters can be encouraging…  One day during clinic last week, after we had our talk on improving our physical and spiritual health in the morning, I interviewed and examined a 50+ year old man and began wrapping up and suggesting to Him that only God heals and he interrupted me, bowed his head and said, “Just like the doctor said, ‘Let’s ask God for help’”.


We recently hosted in Cavango a beautiful surgery team of four (Steve, Peggy, Andrew, Stacey) to do various surgeries over two days.  We compile a list in Cavango of people who need surgery that can be done under local anesthesia and then send out word to them (no phones or mail) before the twice-yearly arrival of the team.  Most people receive their surgery (mostly benign tumor removals, hydroceles and hernias) and so much good is accomplished in a 48-hour period.  We then hosted a delightful team from Alberta of two nurses (Dan and Michelle) and a medical student (Meera) for a week and their passion to serve and learn deeply refreshed and encouraged me.


I am now traveling with Meera in Mavinga doing our remote clinics with MAF, and writing on an afternoon off because our car broke down last night on our return drive to Mavinga from our clinic in the interior.  We walked for an hour, reached an area of cell coverage, and called for help (we were still a 4-5 hr walk from Mavinga) and were “rescued”.  No other car is available for transport to today’s village (there are only about 5-6 cars in this town of 20,000) so we will hopefully resume our work in the morning.


We are receiving so much rain.  Dan, Michelle and Meera joined me last week on a medicine/supply trip from Cavango to Huambo and we got stuck and had to use a winch to free the car from the slime, and we suffered two flat tires (from bent rims), leaving us no spare for our trailer.  After unsuccessfully trying in the approaching darkness and rain to seal either tire well enough to continue, we partially inflated and mounted a severely leaking tire and continued on, only to see the tire maintain enough pressure to complete the trip home (over two hours).  I had forgotten until now that Michelle had asked our Father to maintain enough pressure for us to get home and, as she prayed, I was watching the air spurt out between the rim and tire and thinking that it would require a miracle on the level of the loaves and fishes.  Then after our arrival home (checking the tire every 15-20 min and never seeing the pressure diminish, even while continuing to hear the air spurt out in multiple places around the rim) I forgot to even thank Him!  What can be a 3hr trip home from Huambo (dry season) took us 7 hours and completed a 19hr day.


Two days later we left Cavango for Lubango and the 8hr trip took us 12 hours, getting stuck once and multiple times having to walk a path before the car to assess the best route around drop-offs, holes, or soft areas.  We love the variety that rain brings to our lives, and the certainty of a fruitful harvest for our friends, but it does create challenges and frustrations.


Two men…  I posted the following on FB, which then began a sad “conversation” with a man, unknown to me.


           For all of the (human) faults in the Christian church, the beautiful, consistent, immeasurable (human) sacrificial work done in Jesus’ name, historically (and presently), for the hurting and helpless is not matched even remotely in Hinduism, Buddhism, Atheism, Islam, Socialism, Secularism, or any other religion/movement…


He criticized me for being critical of his religion (although I didn’t specifically criticize his “religion”) while I actually wrote of the beauty of Christian service throughout history.  He criticized my post (without maturity or tact) and my motives by doing to me exactly the “wrong” that he said I had done to his “religion”, and he appeared to have no self-awareness that he was doing exactly that of which he was critical (you can review the unedifying conversation on my FB page).


In Cavango, a 55-year-old “Christian” man (the leader of his village of about 1000 people) brought in his wife, who had suffered a “collapse” during the night, with fainting, palpitations, chest pain, shortness of breath, etc.  She had had similar past episodes, but this was more severe and warranted an hour-long trip on motorbike to our clinic in the middle of the night.  We did an interview and exam and I told him that she was a picture of health.  As he was leaving, he said that he wasn’t sure if this was relevant, but his wife had been upset the night prior (before the episode) when he told her (for the first time) of his “other woman” with whom he’d had three children and that his girlfriend was again expecting.  He stated this with such “innocence” and indifference that I was at a loss.  I asked him what he thought, and he answered that he had no idea and was utterly confused as to why this information could cause his wife to be so upset (something caused him to consider a connection…).  In this culture, it isn’t uncommon for men to assume all leadership roles, supervise and command much, do little, and expect the women to do all the work and to be grateful for the opportunity to serve “their man” …


Two completely different situations involving two men from completely different cultures, each remarkably and completely blind to the obvious, each demonstrating nicely what AW Tozer said in the 1960s, “Man’s greatest weakness today is his lack of self-awareness.” (quoted from memory – paraphrase).  The insightful movement today within the business culture around the topic of “Emotional Intelligence” highlights this lack of accurate self-perception among leaders (and in human interaction in general) and the difficulty we (especially men) have in seeing ourselves transparently and objectively.


The absurd behavior of these two men illustrates that we (especially in our performance-valuing western culture) can be ridiculously ignorant of our ever-present shortcomings as we endeavor to maintain the self-deception that we are “good” (or at least better than others).  Jesus addressed directly this and so many aspects of human nature when He communicated that health/life is found not in overcoming failure (or in being/becoming “good”), but rather in knowing love, acceptance and connection as you areIn stark contrast to the message of “Christianity” today, knowing our inherent value to God and living transparently and genuinely were far more important to Jesus than performing well, being good, etc.


Unearned favor (grace) and forgiveness (mercy) are simply not found in this world apart from the Kingdom of God and these men illustrate that maintaining a positive self-image without transparency and honesty often involves great effort (often unrecognized) in self-deception, self-defense, self-protection and self-promotion.


Only grace (unearned favor) and mercy (unearned forgiveness for errors/offenses) allow the “screwed up” to know love and acceptance apart from performance of any kind.  Only in an environment of grace and mercy can we acknowledge our flaws without fear that those same flaws will condemn or ostracize us.  In an environment of grace and mercy, we can be transparent and let go of any need to perform a certain way (or refuse to see our flaws) in order to be accepted (even in our own eyes).  This is authentic Christianity, it has nothing to do with religion, and far too few (even within churches) experience its beauty.  There is nothing more profoundly beautiful than Jesus’ grace.  Nothing.


I’m in Angola not because of any sense of obligation or duty (or even obedience), but because I want everyone (especially those hurting) to know and experience this incredible, undeserved, life-transforming love of my Father…


Please remember with me today the extravagant beauty of Jesus’ grace and mercy that we likely took for granted yesterday… and join me in proclaiming to someone (anyone) the good news of our Father’s unmerited favor for someone even as screwed up as me (and you)!


I’m greatly burdened these days by the Angolan economy and its effect on the rural poor.  No health posts have medications, rain has been plentiful so it’s a strong mosquito/malaria season, it’s now pre-harvest so no one has cash, and prices for everything (including meds in city pharmacies – several days’ walk for most) have tripled in six months.  Many locals in Cuando Cubango and Huambo are indicating that this is the most harmful malaria season they’ve seen since the war ended (14yrs).  There are so many funeral processions through the streets these days with small caskets…


Please pray for us a clarity in how our Father would use us in this difficult time and that we would daily have the courage and trust to abandon ourselves (and our resources) to care for those (so many) hurting spiritually and physically.


Thank you for sending us and for supporting this work, as He has us here at this difficult time for His purposes.


His “purposes” are rail thin, have beautiful, toothless smiles, are dressed in ragged clothes, are covered in flies and scabies…


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