CEML, Theft, Brakes, Offense…


We are now on the other side of malaria season and must work diligently to prepare for the next, even as we continue to serve those who present to us with a variety of other illnesses.  We need electricity, a lab, refrigeration to hold blood for transfusions which would save so many kids dying from malaria, more beds, more space under roof…


I worked with Steve Foster at CEML (click CEML above) this past two weeks, our tertiary care mission hospital in Lubango, where they treat all comers, but specialize in surgery of every kind.  I’ve enjoyed the challenge of treating more complex diseases and also having laboratory and x-ray (along with ultrasound) with which to make diagnoses.   We treated a variety of nonsurgical illnesses, including severe heart conditions and intestinal illnesses, severe malaria, various liver diseases, meningitis, and a host of infectious disease.  It was nice to be able to do tests on blood, peritoneal fluid, cerebrospinal fluid, pleural fluid, etc and treat more specifically, instead of what feels like a lot of guesswork in the interior.  I must’ve said “Wow” a dozen times as I helped care for patients recovering after treatment via surgery.  Too many stories to recount, but surgeries in Ortho, Neuro, ENT, Plastics, OB/GYN, Pediatric, Ophthalmological, Abdominal…  in a country where virtually none of these surgeries are available to the common man.  CEML is a beautiful place, where excellent medicine of almost every variety is practiced where decent medical service is almost all located in one city, Luanda, and even there the system is quite overwhelmed.


I had an unnerving experience this past week.  I had to stop at a pharmacy on the way home from the hospital in Lubango to buy a couple of syringes in order to give an injection to a vomiting missionary colleague.  A small mall in Lubango was on the way, so I stopped and ran into the pharmacy.  Typically, when one pulls up outside of this mall, 6-12 kids/teens approach the car, offering to wash it or attempting to sell something to the driver.  This happened and I locked the door twice as I looked at my ultrasound in the back seat.  Knowing that I would be in the mall for no more than a few minutes, I still called to the guard standing close by and asked if he would watch the car and he agreed.  I was somewhat delayed and returned to the car about fifteen minutes later and saw my ultrasound bag in the back seat upside down.  As my heart went to my ankles, I lifted the bag and confirmed that it was empty.  Ultrasound, probes, otoscope kit, Accucheck and so much more… gone.  As I was reeling and trying to process the loss of a machine worth thousands of dollars and worth even more to so many people who receive an accurate diagnosis where there are no other tests, the guard approached me and asked me to follow him into the mall.  There, on a table, sat the machine and three probes. The guards said they found it in a pile of trash about a block from the mall.  I turned it on and it worked.  I lost most of the other things in the bag, but recovered the item of most value.  As I was putting the machine and the backpack into my car, a kid showed up holding the last probe, found in a trash can.  As I was digging out some money to pay the teen something for finding the probe, the police chased him away and told me not to pay him, as he was one of the thieves.  As I drove away, I saw that my passenger door was not well closed and I realized that as I had parked, one of the kids must have lifted my passenger door handle when I locked the car from the other side.  Clever.  The range of emotions that I felt over several minutes is impossible to explore, some of which are best left back at the mall, but I am quite grateful for the machine’s recovery and will never leave it alone in the car again!


Another unnerving experience occurred when we recently brought a full car of patients (12 people) needing surgery to Lubango and, because of the constant starting and stopping on the dirt roads, lost our brakes near the end of the trip (they are often pretty soft by the end of this trip, but they were gone.  When we arrived in the city, I had to use the hand brake to navigate through the traffic.  CEML is located on the top of a small mountain and ascending to drop off the patients presented no difficulty, but while descending only the hand brake prevented tragedy on the mountain road with drop-offs of hundreds of feet at every turn.  I made it and the brakes were repaired the next day.  I’ve never used hand brakes like that and hope to never experience the need for the same again!


The economic crisis has reached a point where the government isn’t issuing renewals on certain visas and residency cards for foreigners, claiming they “don’t have the paper” needed to issue these cards.


When we were vacationing last month, I was given a ride by the manager of our apartment to the place where my car was being repaired.  He was a very nice man and as we drove through the very poor, outskirts of town, he pointed out to me that the “poor” lived together in shacks and simple houses without electricity and running water, surrounded by trash.  He went on and on about how they preferred to live this way and I marveled that a human being could actually believe such nonsense.  I challenged him and he laughed and mocked my views as naïve and silly because these folks really didn’t want help.  It was clear that he had developed a world view that absolved him of any responsibility/desire to help even those living a few miles from him.


Are we different in the church? We are called to abandon our lives to love our Father and to meet needs, to serve, and to love our fellow man.  Can you imagine what this world would look like if all who called themselves Jesus-followers searched out real human needs that were not being met?  If all selfish pursuits were disregarded because we passionately believed in God’s pleasure rather than our own, in the well-being of others before our own, and that He is really preparing an eternal home for us that makes this world look like the trash pile which embraced my ultrasound?  Keith Green used to say that if Jesus is taking several thousand years to prepare heaven and He created this world in six days…


Too often, we live the life that most benefits us and we look for ways to love/serve “on the side”.  The global needs (in people just like you and me) are beyond description, and are largely going unmet by those who attend church on Sundays…  I hurt as I write today because of the tremendous need around me and the lack of “laborers” to reach those desperate and hurting.  We (missionaries) speak often of the real needs we could meet if we had the people (not money, skills, publicity, books, equipment, etc)… people… people who would leave their homes, families and comforts, to build relationships, to listen, to teach about improving physical health, to share the truths of God’s Kingdom, to build, to teach skills, to provide transport, to read to the illiterate (the majority in developing nations) to “weep with those who weep” and “rejoice with those who rejoice”.  What is your life’s purpose?  Would you consider joining us?  We don’t need people with special skills, but people willing to love/serve people in whatever way necessary to help those living difficult lives…


Many people in the church in Angola (and elsewhere) think that “preaching” means speaking about the Kingdom in front of a group of people, unaware that the word “preach” means “proclaim”.  We are called to proclaim the Kingdom in season and out, with our lives and our words, and we are not called to stand in front of a group and speak.  This misunderstanding is sadly common, and those who speak in front of people often think they are doing something Kingdom-special, when we are actually called to go into the difficult places, to build relationships (one-on-one, one-on-two, two-on-two, etc) and, with our lives and words, to proclaim the truth of the Kingdom and to be “witnesses” to the reality that Jesus is alive and we know Him.  Those who abandon their earthly lives because of Jesus cause confusion and wonder.  Those who seek comfort and prosperity and also speak of Jesus communicate a double-mindedness that impacts little the people around them…


We think that church is a place where we go or a large weekly gathering and forget that Jesus said that “wherever two or three gather in His name”, He is there.  In His letters to us, our Father often highlights the benefits of His people working together, sharing together, conversing together, confessing together, worshiping together, praying together, etc and only in our modern culture do we think that a primary desire of our Father is to hold some kind of service together.  We are called to community and to relationship and these are sadly not encouraged when we gather weekly, all face in one direction (as in watching a performance), sing a few songs, recite phrases and listen to one person speak.  How much better to share a meal/coffee/tea and share about our struggles, joys and what we are learning…  Where two or three…  Superficial experiences and an inward-focused intellectual learning too often mark today’s church, rather than intimate and transparent outward sharing of our lives with one another…  Let’s be the church today and invite someone to coffee, ask them how they are really doing and share our love/appreciation for them as we communicate our own human struggles and joys.  As we care for them, listen to them, and “proclaim” what we know in humility and honesty, they may become interested in our God…


We continue to seek governmental permission to work in several rural areas among people groups living in the harsh desert, and still find it difficult to be accepted/embraced by the government authorities.  The health authorities over us at Cavango continue to come to our clinic and demonstratively seek to find fault.  They go through our pharmacy looking for expired meds (apparently meds expired for a month or two are worse than no meds at all), they find fault in our nurses’ degrees, they criticize our (four) nurses and put burdensome reporting tasks on them, even though we are the only clinic for miles around with medications and doors open.  Most government nurses haven’t been paid for over a year and the clinics have no medications, while our numbers at Cavango continue to escalate (beyond our capacity), our reputation continues to spread, and hundreds monthly continue to arrive sick and leave well.  Our motives are constantly questioned by the authorities and, though it can be quite frustrating, we are in good company!


Jesus said that associating with Him and following Him would cause offense and this has been quite evident in our work in Angola.  Jesus has a tendency to be “reflective”, causing a person to see him/herself when looking at Jesus.  This reflection often reveals disturbing motives normally hidden and causes a negative emotional response toward Jesus or His people (the offended don’t like seeing themselves as they are).  The Pharisee leaders demonstrated this when they tricked, mocked and even killed Jesus in order to protect their deceptive image and reputation before those that they led.


In Angola, many leaders are offended that our presence indicates that the country needs outside help (which might be perceived as lack in their leadership abilities).  One’s desire to present oneself as “necessary” for society (the politician’s plea) is threatened when that same society is obviously not doing well under the politician’s leadership.  If a community leader takes personal credit for community success (the temptation of every politician), they may also take it personally when there is community lack, and evidence of this lack/need can hurt a leader’s self-esteem and cause him to antagonize those who bring attention to the community’s struggles.


As with Mother Teresa and those who refused to believe her simple motivation to help the least and neglected, many leaders also refuse to believe that we are only in Angola to help and they must rationalize that we have ulterior, hidden, selfish motives (like them) in order to protect themselves from feeling inferior by comparison. The religious leaders of his day also accused Jesus of being glory-seeking and ego-chasing, even though His life, like that of Mother Teresa, indicated otherwise…


We are not Mother Teresa, but we are here to help and we need favor from those in authority to be able to carry out our simple work.


Please pray for us, that our Father would grant us favor with those who can open the doors necessary for us to serve those He would have us serve in this place and at this time.


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