Blisters, Cemeteries, Civil Discourse…


What a whirlwind week.  As I looked ahead, I realized that we would soon run out of the four medications required to treat our 70-or-so tuberculosis patients (it’s a 6-8 month course of treatment for this otherwise deadly disease).  This was combined with the fact that the Angola government has not dispensed TB meds for about two years and tightly controls the selling and dispensing of the same, and that we are scheduled to return to the US in November for four months and we need the clinic prepared (and stocked) to serve well in our absence.  I found two of the four meds in Lubango, a missionary friend found another in a city on the coast, and I needed to drive to Windhoek, Namibia to purchase the necessary fourth medication.


The “Blisters” story in this post has been removed because of political sensitivity.  Please help me remember and I will share it with you in person when we return to the US.


I took off on the 2-day drive, the first day a grueling 16hr in the car, because I could find only one place to stay overnight along the route.  The second day was only three hours, but I discovered on arrival in Windhoek that my gear box was destroyed and needed replaced, so I got busy shopping in a rental car while my car was being repaired.  Along with the meds I also purchased 12, 70kg solar batteries that we will use to replace our current house batteries.  Our car looked like its headlights were pointing well above the horizon while the back fenders were almost touching the tires!  We had about 14 hours of driving in this overly-burdened car (we’ve overloaded this car so many times) until we reached Lubango, but only two hours on dirt, so we had hope that we would make it, but we were anxious.  We talked about how commonly we encounter the unfamiliar and uncomfortable in this cross-cultural life-style … and prayed…



On our return, once in Namibia and twice in Angola, we were stopped by police at road blocks and had to take out and open our (20+) cardboard boxes (non-medicine clinic supplies), but we made it back without broken springs/shocks!  We then spent a few days in Lubango preparing for our return to Cavango and filled two cars with clinic supplies (including 150lb of blankets) and drove 11hr (overloaded) with the Halls (missionary colleagues in Lubango who are staying with us for a week) to arrive home on Sunday evening.  It’s nice to be back, though there were so many people in the hospital that we didn’t see one of the 40+ people who signed up for a consult on Monday, because we spent all day seeing the in-patients…



When I travel, I always look for cemeteries in which to stroll.  I found a large cemetery in Windhoek, with many gravestones several hundred years old.  I spent several hours among them, meditating and praying about my work, my life, who I am, whose I am…  My cemetery walks are always good, sober times of uniquely refocusing on death, eternal realities and this life’s remarkable brevity… and strolling and connecting with my Father in a manner that will continue long after one of these markers bears my name…



I am in a disciple-like relationship (close relationship where intimacy with Jesus can be contagiously transmitted from one to another) with several men and I have not seen a measurable, passionate response to Jesus in a couple of them and I’ve been tempted to become discouraged.  Then I remember that quick growth doesn’t last (grass vs trees), and that time, patience, and continued input are necessary, whether growing fruit spiritually or naturally.  There are many seeds germinating in the soil of these men’s hearts and I am simply a humble tool that the Gardener can use to nurture previously planted Kingdom seeds (measurable results are not the goal).  Trust, in me and in Jesus, takes time to develop and I must allow for the ups and downs of relationship.  What we must not do is abandon relationship with people Jesus loves when they appear to be rejecting us or Jesus (we have all done the same).



In this materially very poor culture, one is so often confronted with smiles when things go badly.  One’s family is the community and young people live in an environment of support and value.  Work is embraced as necessary and the reward for hard work is the same as yesterday – a meal and unlimited fellowship with others “in the same boat”.  The beginning and end of the day sees a community gathering around the cooking fire with limited conversation, but much cohesiveness.  There is little anxiety and depression, even though the people of this culture are very aware that fatal illness/disability could strike at any time.  We’ve sacrificed much on the alter of pleasure and prosperity.  We spend so much time and energy apart from “Seek first the Kingdom of God…”.   Only when living in the misplaced priorities of economic prosperity can one read the bible and hear that “things must go well with you”…



Contrary to many churches who use His name, I never remember Jesus seeking a crowd or validation from people.  As Jesus followed His Father, some joined Him, and some were antagonistic, and many were indifferent.  Jesus actually discouraged those who verbalized desire to follow Him, in order to discourage those who might embrace Him (or impulsively commit to Him) emotionally without counting the cost of the reality of what it really means to follow Him.  Today, we seek to fill our church services as we encourage people to experience the wedding without considering the cost/reality of a marriage… the ups and downs, failures and successes, conflict and harmony, the mundane and the exciting.  I know people who have experienced virtually nothing but pain in failed marriages, yet push their kids toward the altar, hoping it will be different for them.  How much wiser to honestly communicate the realities of their pain so that the other might be better prepared for the inevitable difficulties…  We are similar in churches, as we push people toward a commitment without honestly communicating the reality of the journey.  There is nothing easy about the journey of self-abandonment, yet this is where Jesus leads, and in 1000 years we will be pleased that we offered ourselves to be spent by Him and that we weren’t preoccupied with our own comfort and that which doesn’t last…



Jesus resisted lukewarm, nominal followers and it seems that today, in our consumer-driven insecurity and our ignorance of what it means to abandon our lives and follow Him, we encourage anyone and everyone to be part of our church.  We pursue greater numbers in our church services, but this was never Jesus’ heart.  Jesus calls a few to authenticity and abandonment, rather than to making many converts or filling church services.  Jesus-lovers are different than those around them (the world always wants their club to be popular), not in appearance, but in passion for Him and for others, and groups of believers need to gather for support and encouragement (because it’s NOT easy to follow Jesus).  We don’t do the work of the kingdom as we gather for “church”, but we gather to support and encourage each other in our abandonment to Kingdom work (loving difficult people in difficult places) outside of the gathering.  Jesus said that anywhere that two or three gather in His name, He is with them.   Churches are united Jesus-lovers, whether under a tree, in a hospital, in a bar, on a bus, or inside a building (any building).  In the Amazon and here in Angola, I have had my most significant interactions with believers and nonbelievers outside of church buildings.  The role of church services is to equip Jesus-followers to follow Him to Jerusalem, to Judea, and to all the hard places He is working (usually among “the least”) outside of any church building.  An abandoned Jesus-follower cares not about where he/she lives, about painful sacrifices, about reputation, about financial security, about enjoying life…  His/her passion is to know Him and to see others know Him, as well.



The spontaneous, emotional prayer of commitment that we often seek in the modern, evangelical church is measurable, superficial and, unfortunately, doesn’t communicate the necessity of time and trial in the building of intimacy and trust.  Our relationship with Jesus is not a one-time commitment, but rather a journey of many changes, many errors, and many passions, and we must give grace to ourselves and to others as they(we) journey with their(our) Father.  Encouraging trust and intimacy with Jesus, that will develop over eternity, is our Father’s heart for each of us.



In our small village of Cavango, which is deeply divided politically, the sense of community is like I’ve never known.  They disagree profoundly about political passions for which they would give their lives (everyone lost loved ones and/or were maimed for their beliefs in the recent civil war), and yet the respect that I observe them show one another daily is rare in my home culture, where obvious demonstration of respect and honor is uncool and too formal.  If we would more demonstrate respect and honor in our US culture, perhaps more men and women would see themselves as worthy of respect!



I’m frankly embarrassed by the current political dialogue in the US.  I have a different perspective living abroad than that which I had while living in the US.  The president is our principal global representative as well as our country’s leader.  As expat missionaries, we speak often of whom we represent and that we are ambassadors for Jesus, for our home country, for our mission, for our home church, for our supporters, for those we serve, and for our family.  There is also a humility and realistic vulnerability in rural Angola that causes one to honor another because, as the proverb says, when one falls into a pit, it is much easier to get out if you are not alone (“rugged individualism” is not admired or pursued here).  The arrogant, political dialogue in the US doesn’t represent us well, lacks honor and respect for other people/countries and leaves me often sad and nauseous.


What happened to civil discourse?  It still exists in much of the world, but is a lost virtue in the US.  To disagree is human and healthy, as wherever there is more than one person involved in a decision, one will find disagreement.  So why, especially among “Christians”, does disagreement need to involve demonizing another, and/or his/her perspective?  Why has Jesus’ perspective been lost in the church?  He was a “people-ist” and constantly railed against a focus on the law, morality and an emphasis on “right” and “wrong”.  He certainly encouraged healthy, nondestructive behavior, but placed huge emphasis on people over their behavior (or political views).



As Jesus’ representatives, how do we reflect Him?  Do we love only those who love us and think like us?  Must we attack and belittle people who disagree with us?  Is the behavior of today’s Jesus-people different than that of people who don’t follow Jesus?  Why are we surprised (or offended) because, at this point in their journey, another doesn’t see the same landscape as we do?  Do we ask people what they believe, honor them, and enjoy hearing their reasoning or are we focused on providing for them all the “right” answers?



“And this is my commandment, that you believe and teach only correct doctrine, and that you persuade everyone to believe exactly as you do, and this is my second commandment, which is like the first, that you criticize, mock, ridicule and demonize anyone who disagrees with you.”


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