NG, Evidence, Ears, One More, Eternity…

 

We’ve had the unexpected pleasure of hanging out with an (English-speaking) team from National Geographic during our recent six weeks in Cavango.  They are a group of scientists, journalists and photographers exploring the major river systems of southern Angola, one of which is the Cubango River, which passes over some beautiful rapids about a mile from our house in Cavango.  They are in the midst of a trip from its source in the Angola highlands (140km from us) to its mouth in the Okavango Swamp of Botswana (1000mi).   Learn more about this river system here and follow their fascinating journey on FB here or on Instagram at #intotheokavango.   We’ve been able to sit by their evening fires near “our” rapids and listen to what they have been learning about this wilderness, described by them as “quite undisturbed by time and man”.  There are experts in plants, fish, birds, insects, reptiles, mammals, geography and so much more, from museums and universities around the world.  They showed us jars of specimens, photos from drones and videos of bee attacks and tiger fish underwater.  They traveled by small plane, helicopter, car, motorbike and dugout canoe.  We helped them through malaria and other illnesses, brought them cokes, tortillas and cookies (Betsy) and thoroughly enjoyed their company.  Many on the team will be traveling in the wilderness for several months.  They have endured the wrath of bees, mosquitoes, black flies and crocodiles and had to portage their boats around a sensitive and very protective mother hippo!  Their stated goal is environmental awareness and protection.  Both are hugely lacking in this part of the world.

 

 

I’m reminded of the tremendous effort that goes into environmental discovery, preservation and care.  I can appreciate the efforts of so many or I can be like many Americans regarding health care and take for granted the community of care involved in their healing (the lab tech, the developers of the ultrasound machine, the discoverer of the bacteria causing the infection, the night-cleaner of the surgical ward, the person at the information desk, the people who died during discovery of the illness and before treatment was found, the teacher at the doctor’s medical school, parents of the same teacher, the great-grandparent of our nurse who endured slavery for her offspring, the immigrant uncle of our doctor who worked on the docks so his kids would have options, the multiple inventors of various types of glassware, the developer of the syringes, the factory worker in China who makes perfect and sterile hollow needles, the pharmaceutical scientists…)

 

 

The majority of the world’s population live in areas without access to modern, accessible health care, where anyone can call EMS and get transported to the nearest hospital for physician evaluation within minutes (there is no EMS in this entire country and the majority of consultations are done in assembly-line-fashion by minimally-trained nurses).   And yet there is little gratitude in the US for the expert care received (if Americans could only experience the developing-world alternative).  Many parents outside the US would literally give their lives to see their sick child receive such health care, while most people in North America express no gratitude and voice criticism freely.  As an ED director of a small hospital in years gone by, I saw, out of the thousands of sick and injured people we treated successfully each year, perhaps one or two return to say thank you.

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We used to fight to get our patients in and out of the ED in less than two hours to improve patient-satisfaction.  In rural Angola I try to see everyone on the same day as their arrival (and often don’t succeed and they sleep outside on the ground until the next day’s clinic).  Yet there is far more gratitude here for far less service, far more patience, far fewer expectations, far more grace, and far fewer resources.  I’ve never once here heard a complaint about the wait and I won’t tell you how many complaints I (and my fellow ED directors) responded to (daily)…  Will you remember with me today that gratitude is always available, costs nothing, edifies those who hear it expressed, and is health for the soul, mind, heart and body…

 

 

Two of the most significant decisions facing each of us regularly are “To whom will I listen?” and “Whom will I believe?”  Jesus often prefaced what He said by, “For those with ears to hear” meaning, “For those who choose to hear”.  In humility, we can recognize our relative insignificance and ignorance and choose to be concerned with God’s perspective of us and our journey (and seek His counsel), or we can make decisions independently of Him… We’ve all done both, and have experienced the consequences (pleasant and unpleasant) of each attitude/decision.  Yet the choice remains daily before us, “To whom will I listen” and “Whom will I believe/follow/trust?”

 

 

When I arrived in Cavango, from a part of the world most had never heard of, I was unknown, of a different race and culture, and I had a completely different world view than those with whom I was now working (theirs could be labeled “fatalism” and mine, “personal responsibility”).  Imagine that the “nurses” I was instructing had never seen a modern hospital, had never heard beeping monitors, had never seen lights/power in the hospital (used candles at night), and could certainly never fathom an EMS.  Several had never been to a city.  Several wore no shoes.  They lived in a culture without books, toothbrushes, narcotics, toilet paper, electricity and running water.  They had never heard of scientific research, had no idea about the various chemistries within medications, had never seen an ultrasound machine…  And I arrived and practiced medicine in a way they had never seen.  I stocked the pharmacy with unfamiliar medications and practiced “evidence-based” medicine, that which had been studied and proven – a form of medicine based on accurate treatment for an precisely determined cause, and one based largely on that which is, to these rural people, unseen (bacteria, failed heart valves, inflammation, parasites, blood pressure, etc).  I did a lot of explaining, and mostly encountered blank stares in response.

 

 

The daily, exhausting and endless explanations continued and countless people were healed with basic, evidence-based medicine.  When I would return from clinic trips to other parts of Angola, however, I’d find that the nurses’ treatments hadn’t changed, as they had resorted to the familiar.  I challenged the staff personally and in meetings that they had to decide whom to believe – their antiquated and inadequate knowledge (and its poor results) or what I was demonstrating and teaching.  Over time, I began to see them implement my treatment strategies and, one day, the director of the clinic quietly approached me.  He had been treating patients for 40+ years, through the long civil war, and had seen so many deaths.  He said that he never imagined that so many people could come to a hospital sick and leave well.  Modern medicine, to him, had been little better than the traditional medicine practiced by the shamans, which involved incantations and soups of various parts of plants and animals.  Minor illnesses in both cases often resolved and serious illnesses in both cases ended in death.  Now he was seeing people near death consistently walk home a few days later.  This “nurse” (one year of training in the 70s) was simply seeing the results of evidence-based medicine and the results of generations of study and research…

 

 

Over time and observation (of healing after healing), the nurses at Cavango began to imitate my treatment and ask questions about arriving at an accurate diagnosis.  They’ve adopted my methods and have chosen to learn from me, based on what they’ve seen.  We each choose to whom we listen.  Like the nurses in Cavango, we must observe character and results, compare methods, make judgments about risk/benefit and recognize that there will always be differing opinions and the choice of whom we follow is ours to make (many times daily) individually.  None of us are born independently capable of wisdom.  We all must learn from someone how to act and respond (Jesus learned obedience) and from whom we receive is our choice and largely determines who we are…

 

 

There are those who say that Jesus has had a negative influence on the world, and those who say the opposite.  Some say Christianity is one of many religions, and others say it’s not a religion at all.  One says Jesus was a good teacher and another says He was deity.  Many say the bible is man-written, others God-breathed.  One says that we are the product of chance and time, while another says we each were purposely created.  Some say marriage is God-ordained, not because it’s easy, but because it is good.  Others say marriage is an antiquated societal dictate that must evolve with the changing culture.  Jesus called us to, like Him, abandon our lives/dreams/desires, focus on the benefit of others and “see” with an eternal perspective.  “Experts” today encourage pursuit of our dreams (desires), that life’s sole purpose is happiness, and that personal pleasure is our best pursuit.  “Look out for #1 because no one else will.”  We could make quite a list of the many choices before us, which are essentially boiled down to – to whom will we listen.  On our life’s journey we encounter many forks in the path and we can make wise and unwise choices, decisions that result in pleasant and unpleasant consequences, we can seek what is best for others or what is best for us, we can push into the uphill path less traveled or skip downhill with the majority, we can travel alone or choose our companions…  And we can believe (spoken by One who died and came back to life) that we have a Father who sees where (and who) we are and invites us to walk together with Him for the remainder of the journey, who will provide a light to our path, will direct our steps (if invited), and who will never abandon us…

 

 

Honest self-evaluation is one of the most challenging endeavors we can undertake. Our nurses compared their previous results with what they were now seeing and, in humility and honesty, changed course.  We can do the same.  Who/what is directing your steps?  Perceived security/longevity?  Laws? How you were raised? Comfort?  Your own wisdom?  Earthly success vs eternal rewards?  Popularity?  Peace?  Charismatic leadership vs your Father’s pleasure?  Is the Bible true and worth believing for directing your steps (it claims so)?  Have you read your Father’s letters to you recently or are you believing what others tell you about them?  Who is God and what are his attributes and how do you find out?  Can you really know Him?  We spend a lot of time in our lives on what doesn’t matter.  Is it time to reconsider whom you are following and listening to?

 

 

One of the most exhausting facets of our lives among the rural poor is “just one more”.  Late in the evening, after so many consultations throughout the day, “just one more” arrives in the darkness.  Our car is full and again overburdened for the day’s 10hr trip and “just one more” person arrives and asks for a ride, or a friend brings “just one more” 50kg sack of corn for us to take into town for his family.  “Just one more” loan, “just one more” favor, “just one more” question, etc. just when you think it’s time to rest.  As I write, this seems quite trivial, but it is one of the pebbles that can get in my shoe and cause me to become distracted from the purpose of my journey.

 

 

I drove around the whole city of Lubango (a million people) today from 4a-6a and found no diesel.  We have an outlying clinic scheduled for tomorrow and cannot travel without fuel.  The entire country system is broken (high inflation, no fuel, power grid weak, salaries by the fed govt unpaid, etc), and the rural people will suffer again…

 

 

It looks like the pastor of our mission will be fired.  In many ways, he is a typical Angolan man and a man who would be familiar anywhere in the world.  I’ve known men of many cultures and few are those who will converse and interact soberly on a personal level.  This pastor and the typical man speaks in clichés and always has a trite answer.  He dictates and commands.  He laughs a lot, especially at other people.  He is dramatic and always faithful to his mask (“tudo bem” or “everything is good”).  He doesn’t know how to read, or reveal to another, his inner struggles and joys.  Because he can’t hold a genuine conversation, he can’t build trust, and without trust, there is no following.  So, after a year at Cavango, the majority don’t want to follow a caricature (some do, especially the men who are like him), and I’m sure he doesn’t understand.  But I can’t talk to him about it (I’ve tried) because of his inability to connect relationally and his inability to even begin a process of self-evaluation…

 

 

We were visited by leaders of this pastor’s denomination as they sought to resolve the community conflict surrounding this pastor.  They asked questions, they listened, they conversed, they shared their dilemma, they were willing (and able) to process together to find solutions.  They were relational men, thoughtful men, caring men, Jesus men…

 

 

Could it be that every single event and interaction in your life has the purpose of revealing something to you about your Father?  Perhaps your life isn’t about survival, success or significance (most common responses given for life’s purpose), but more about revelation from your Maker (about you, about others, about life, about Him…) as He prepares you for eternity.  Your marriage isn’t only about you or your spouse, but that you might see your heavenly Spouse’s incredible, unconditional love for you (the church is the bride of Jesus).  You are a parent not only to raise your children, but to understand more of your Father’s parental heart toward you.  Last night’s storm was to reveal His protection during and after and His presence with you in your daily pain.  The oak tree in your backyard is to reveal your Father’s beautiful patience and long-suffering toward you.  That recent interpersonal conflict had purpose ordained by your Father, just for you, to see the wondrous and beyond-your-imagination grace that He continually extends toward you, as you are.   Your recent loss is helping you see each person with eternal eyes…

 

 

I considered this recently on my cool, misty, sunrise walk to the river, where I encountered the beautiful, passionate men and women from National Geographic and heard of the research they did the previous day in our “backyard”.  Their passion was contagious!  I was moved and encouraged by their hearts of wonder for my Father’s world.   I considered what I could learn from the sandy path on which I was walking, the footprints (and the lives of those who made them) on which I tread, the Black Mamba snake that saw me and slithered away, the small brush fire, the trail of ants stretched across the path, the gigantic termite hills, constructed over decades, the warmth of the rising sun on my return home…  Each had a message for me from my Father.  My stroll became an adventure of learning, about me, about life, about Him…  I was overwhelmed by the depth of my encounter with Jesus, just during a morning stroll, and wondered how much interaction with Him I daily miss in the midst of my superficial busy-ness and self-focus.

 

 

Have you ever wondered the value of the Kingdom message to those who live in stark poverty, those who see death almost daily and those whose calloused hands and feet demonstrate lives of unremitting lack and labor?  At a recent pre-clinic morning discussion with patients and their families (perhaps 80 adults), I asked them why we should follow Jesus.  My reading to follow the question was about Jesus’ resurrection and I was prefacing the discussion…  Perhaps 4-5 people responded and essentially quoted Peter without knowing it.  At a time when many disciples of Jesus were leaving (Jn 6.68)(Yes, Jesus’ ministry went through a season of decreasing numbers!), Jesus asked the twelve if they would leave also, and Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”   Eternal life was his priority and Jesus’ central focus was always on eternity…

 

 

On that morning, when I asked the group why they might follow Jesus, they each said, in their own way, “Jesus has the words of eternal life.”  These beaten down, dirty and tired, beautiful rural people are understandably preoccupied about eternal life.  Death, to them, is a tangible reality and this life’s brevity is readily understood.  They are interested in eternal life.  We then discussed how Jesus’ words of eternal life were validated by His resurrection.  They implanted much more in me than I in them…

 

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