Team, Pus, Goodness, Prayer…


While I was reading a book at home on a recent Sunday afternoon, I heard screaming and yelling outside and walked out to see what/who was causing the commotion.  There were two men, high in a tree near our house and our German Shepherd, Bella (inherited from another missionary family), sitting beneath the tree.  There are a dozen ways around our house to avoid Bella (who is quite harmless), but these two saw her and, instead of turning around, headed up the tree and began screaming.  I wish I had a video.


There is not an epidemic in rural Angola (as in the US) of depression and anxiety.  There is generally not a conflict within people between the “ideal” the “real”.  There is no battle with the insatiable “I want” (greed, lust, status, popularity…).  Expectations are realistic and always involve suffering and death.  Pain is accepted and it lacks an emotional component.  Simple pleasures of life are enough…


Some things said from the front of a recent Cavango church service: “We mustn’t steal, because stealing is wrong and it hurts your neighbor and our community.”  “If you or your child are sick, take them to the hospital.  We have a hospital with nurses, a doctor and medicines and people who go there get better.”  “Each family eats 10kg of corn/week and, therefore, should contribute 1kg of corn each week to the church in the offering or you are stealing from God.”  Our church’s offering is principally in small sacks of dried corn, as this is the staple diet of the people here.  It is a hard corn like our “feed corn” in the US, that is dried and pulverized to powder and then mixed with water to make a mashed-potato-consistency, tasteless paste that is consumed twice daily, with or without another dish, depending on the season.  The same church service was interrupted to chase two dogs around the church for 5 minutes as they hid under the benches and created quite a funny spectacle.  They were finally ushered out yelping with sticks not-so-gingerly kissing their hides.  The role of an usher in rural Angola requires an entirely different set of skills than in the US!


The new pastor in Cavango recently said that the difference between evangelical Christians and catholic Christians is that evangelical Christians no longer sin but catholic Christians continue sinning.  By his definition, I’m obviously quite catholic and a long way from evangelical!


Our team!  I emailed our missionary team in Lubango about a teen in a diabetic coma and our immediate need for insulin.  We had a pilot from MAF coming out the next day to pick up a person needing surgery and would bring the insulin if they could find it in the city.  Several missionaries scoured the city of a million people and found some insulin (it wasn’t easy) and the pilot brought it out the next day.  The boy survived and I see his smiling face twice daily getting his shots with never a complaint and his glucose has been perfect every day.  He’s the only kid who sees me and doesn’t leave with a sucker!  The next week we had a 20-something woman arrive in thyrotoxicosis (hyperthyroid crisis) and I sent another email and our beautiful missionaries in Lubango (who are already way overcommitted) again stopped everything and found the requested medication, which came out again with our tireless MAF pilot, Marijn (who steals suckers from my medical bag) the next day.  The woman has responded well and may not have survived without it.  There are so many contributors to the saving of lives here, from the missionary team, to our partners/contributors back home, to our local nurses, to the ladies who do the hospital’s laundry (by hand), to our guys who register patients…  I am a (very) small part of a large team who participate in our Father’s work of saving lives to give each person further opportunities to know Him…


We had a visit from two beautiful men from SIM (part of an eight-person team visiting Angola) who travel to various countries, looking to encourage the missionaries and find ways for us to better serve the people we are here to serve.  They met with leaders in our community and our hospital staff, and encouraged many, especially me.  I so love SIM, the missionary organization of which I am a part.  When we return to the US for our four months of Home Assignment in November, we will begin our journey at the SIM offices in Charlotte, NC for four days and we will be asked how we are doing by so many interested people with different roles in the organization.  It is so obvious that they are passionate about building up the missionaries and doing whatever they can to help us in our work.  Most of the staff have served overseas and their experience and passion with edify us greatly and give us knowledge and tools to better serve on our return.  Our team!


It’s been a busy season in our little hospital in Cavango, with many cases involving the draining of pus… from the heart, the chest, the abdomen, the breast, the buttocks, the extremities, the face…  The severe pain of infection is tolerated by people in their villages for days to weeks before they seek medical treatment as a last resort (almost all have visited a person practicing “traditional” or “natural” medicine).  By then large abscesses have often formed, which will not heal without draining.  These abscesses are most commonly in the muscle or under the skin, but we’ve had some remarkable cases of frank pus in the pleural cavity and pericardium in the past two weeks.  It’s not difficult to find the fluid with ultrasound, but I am always surprised when the syringe fills with thick pus, rather than the thinner fluid of TB, which we see so commonly, and which isn’t as immediately destructive as frank pus from a more acute infection.


One young boy came in quite toxic and had one leg, his pericardium and his left chest full of pus.  We have drained each of these spaces in him several times and it looks like he might survive.  A 17-year-old and a 10-year-old arrived quite short of breath and had purulent fluid (pus) in their chests and the 17-year-old girl also had the same around her heart.  They are also doing well after draining.  The boy needed an improvised chest tube made from IV tubing draining into a plastic water bottle (we have very little equipment here…).  A sixty-year-old man went to a health post and received a vitamin shot in his buttocks (the only medicine they had), and came to us a week later and we drained more than a liter of thick pus from his backside (caused by a dirty needle vs no skin cleansing prior to the injection).  We see many of these post-injection abscesses from other health care facilities (mostly in kids), which are staffed by inadequately trained people trying to help with no/used supplies.  One woman came in with large abscesses in both buttocks!  We have many cases of osteomyelitis from untreated infections that infect/destroy the bone.  A 23-year-old girl currently has osteomyelitis of her mandible on both sides of her face, likely from dental abscesses neglected because she had nowhere to go (there are virtually no dentists in Angola).  A 32-year-old woman had mastitis, which spread to her other breast and to her entire abdomen before coming to us.  It took two weeks for the pus to stop draining from our multiple incision sites…


Few of the patients I see wear shoes and few speak Portuguese (most speak either Nganguela or Mbundu).  I therefore need a translator with almost all patients and one of my translators (my age) also has no shoes and speaks four languages.  He has no doors or windows in his mud house and he consistently calls through the closed door in our exam room for the next patient and gets frustrated when no one responds.  One day our director came in and demonstrated how sound travels much better when the door is open.  Last year on one of our trips to the city, he joined us and was constantly calling out to people through the closed windows in the car.  It was his first time to the city…


We had eight deaths in our hospital in my recent two-week absence while working at CEML in Lubango and there have been no deaths since my return.  Our head nurse has a great heart to learn and has learned so much in three years, but with one year of training, it is taking time, and people die from missed diagnoses…  This is a real demonstration of the value of every dollar that you contribute to this work and the benefit that we bring to a place that has such need.  This is not a self-plug, but a plug for a large team (mentioned above) that meets real and desperate needs.  I wish more people could experience the blessing of working on a team in a place with needs that would not be met without their presence.  There are so many places in the world with such needs, and one does not need special skills to help meet these needs.  It only takes willingness to go to the hard places and learn what is necessary to help.  For example, we need people who would go to the hundreds of villages around us to speak on basic health and hygiene.  The lack of basic knowledge here is striking, because of 30+ years of war with virtually no education/instruction…  Also beyond our ability to appreciate in the US church is the lack of knowledge of the person and heart of Jesus.  Who will tell them?


There has been much negative press re Mother Teresa lately.  The behavior of Jesus-lovers has frustrated/irritated/offended those who want to remain independent of God since Jesus himself.  Observe recent comments about Mother Teresa, who is perhaps the most Jesus-like public figure (someone everyone recognizes) of our time.  She is often dismissed as “religious”, self-focused, glory-seeking, etc. even though all evidence supports that she initiated and maintained her ministry for the sake of those abandoned and forsaken.


People who value performance and see themselves as “good” (almost invariably comparatively) have great difficulty with someone more “good”, and they must dismiss that person in order to still see themselves as “good” by comparison.  Most commonly, this dismissal is in the form of gifting or talent, as with Michael Jordan or Carrie Underwood.  “They have talent/ability that I don’t have.”   A problem arises, however, when speaking of actions which require no special talent (sacrifice, service, etc).  As with Mother Teresa, if the work can’t be demonized, one will resort to judging motives, which can be neither refuted nor validated.


Jesus clearly indicated that people engage in good/healthy/constructive and bad/unhealthy/destructive behavior, but He said that “goodness” was an impossible human standard and that only God is good.  Yet, in the church we often place significant value on people’s (or our own) “goodness”.  For example, how often have you felt really good or poorly because of something that you did or did not do?  We commonly value our performance rather than value who we are (a loved and valued child of the One who created us in joy, just as we are). We praise a person’s “character” more than honor their beauty in the eyes of our Father (whether their behavior is “good” or otherwise).  According to Jesus, all people are beautiful, quite apart from goodness (father running to his prodigal son).  A two-year-old is a familiar example.  When we emphasize/glorify people’s “goodness”, however, we begin to expect consistent goodness from people and no one can deliver the same.  We become frustrated and disillusioned by people’s errors and mistakes and forget that their hurtful or neglectful behavior is normal and human.  If we think someone is “good”, we simply don’t know him/her well enough!  We forget that our Father’s Kingdom is about His grace and undeserved love (running father of the prodigal son), not human goodness, performance or “character”.  Those transformed by grace value and adore the One who affectionately and joyfully embraced them (and other screwed up people) when they didn’t deserve it, but there are many proud, religious and “upright” (based on comparative performance) prodigal older brothers who weekly attend (or lead) church services and value/emphasize human goodness.


Instead of presenting one’s symptoms to an experienced medical professional and seeking an experienced opinion as to cause and treatment, some people (the world over) present to a doctor and seek treatment,“knowing” the cause.  A man recently stayed at home for three days, hoping his “indigestion” would abate.  When there was no resolution, he presented to me with a request for medication for his “gastritis”.  He had suffered an an acute myocardial infarction (heart attack), his cardiac muscle damage demonstrated via ultrasound.  He survived but will never be the same.  We do the same with our Father when we pray!  Like these patients, instead of presenting to Him our concerns and seeking His “treatment” or solution, we arrogantly tell Him what to do.  How much better to present to Him our difficulties, hurts and challenges and humbly request whatever solution He deems best (trusting His experience and wisdom)?  We can arrogantly dictate or declare what He should/must do or we can humbly seek His wisdom and abilities to bring about a result pleasing to the One who knows best.  It is this trust that leads to “peace that passes understanding” not the granting of our every request and desire (which He doesn’t do anyway).  He invited and promised to respond to our every “knock”, our every request.  Sometimes the “treatment” or solution, however, requires a painful remedy, and we reject it as from Him because it isn’t immediately pleasant.  Trust in our Father (as with a doctor, mechanic, veterinarian, etc) requires trust in One with more insight/experience/wisdom/ability than we have…


Without active and conscious surrender to Jesus…

I will seek to be loved rather than to love,

I will seek to be served rather than to serve,

I will seek man’s praise/favor rather than my Father’s pleasure,

I will seek to be honored rather than to honor,

I will seek personal comfort/ease rather than comfort for another…


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