Vasco, Isaias, Moises, DEET…


We enjoyed this past week a visit in Cavango with Dan and Rachel Hoyme and their three kids.  Rachel worked with me in the clinic as she is an American Nurse Practitioner learning clinical work in Angola among the rural people with which they work.  Dan leads the work of Overland Missions (you will love exploring their mission’s work around the world among difficult-to-reach peoples here) in Angola among the Mucabal people in an area called Virei (veeday), in the Namibe Desert (almost uninhabitable) where I hope to make monthly visits in 2018 with MAF.  Betsy and I are now in Lubango for a week of meetings and remote clinics, including meetings in Namibe (provincial capital) and Virei to try to schedule monthly clinics in Virei for 2018.



A few of the people we saw last week (that I can remember as I write):  a 24-year-old man presented to us with marked difficulty breathing and severe edema everywhere for almost a month.  Rachel drained almost five liters of TB fluid off of his chest and he lost several more liters through diuresis, losing 20kg in two days!  I was struck by the humble beauty of Vasco’s brother, who has been carrying him around on his back for several weeks and did the same throughout his hospital stay, as Vasco cannot walk because of the severity of his edema.  Vasco remains under the care of our nurses in Cavango, for treatment of his TB and what is likely Kaposi Sarcoma secondary to AIDS.  This disease is now treatable in most of the world, but in rural Angola it is still a death sentence, but perhaps we can help extend his life somewhat and give him more opportunities to meet Jesus.  Rachel and I saw many other complicated cases together and it was a joy to get to know this beautiful family out in our remote setting (two-day drive for them) and then to work with Rachel at one of our remote clinic sites this past weekend.



A 35-year-old woman arrived in severe respiratory distress with pneumonia (oxygen saturation < 60%) and also what appeared to be a “thyroid storm” (a hyperthyroid crisis), secondary to her overwhelming infection.  The same evening a 1-year-old arrived in a coma with 48hr of constant seizures from cerebral malaria (the season is beginning).  They both succumbed to their illnesses over a couple days, despite our best (though limited) efforts and our pleading with our Father for their lives.  Isaias, one of the most dearly loved and respected elders of our community presented later one night (there must have been 75 people who came to the hospital with him) with loss of speech, a flaccid right arm and leg, incontinence of stool and urine, and complete loss of his ever-present smile, for over 24hr.  I truthfully presented the bad news to him and his family about the cause (stroke), and the likely irreversible nature of his symptoms after 24hr without improvement, we gave him the minimal treatment that we had available, and we asked together for our Father to touch him and heal his illness.  The next morning, I arrived early and went to his room to see if he survived the night.  I quietly and soberly asked his wife how the night went and a booming voice suddenly filled the room saying, “Our night was great, doctor.  How was your night?  It appears that God has given me some more days.”  I turned to see Isaias sitting up in bed and grinning ear-to-ear with his characteristic bright, toothless and beautiful smile.  We could offer so very little, yet his recovery was complete, in less than eight hours.  The Wind…



A couple Sundays ago, my precious afternoon of rest was interrupted by Moises, an unknown man arriving at our house asking for help because he was stuck in the mud about 20 minutes away.  I arrived to find the rear of his large flatbed truck hung up on the edge of a deep hole which had swallowed his tire, but his rear wheels were not touching ground.  Over three sloppy hours, we worked together to get him out (with my little car, shovels, sticks, a jack and a winch) and he was most grateful and asked how he could repay me.  I told him we had not had success in finding a truck that made runs from our area to a city and back, to help us regularly purchase supplies.  He said he was the only truck passing by us and that he had only just begun this route, and he offered to drive by our village once/week and get orders/money from us and deliver the goods later on his return the same week!  This is a huge benefit for us as we try to operate a “cantina” with simple foods (rice, crackers, sugar, salt, oil, sardines, etc) for our patients and their families and we haven’t been able to keep it stocked because of our distance from stores (4-5hr).  He has already made several deliveries and his service will be a huge benefit to us and our patients.  He will also help greatly when we begin construction on our new buildings as he can deliver cement, wood, steel, etc.  All because he got stuck in the road near us!  The Wind…



The Wind… who answers to no one, has nothing to do with chance/coincidence, is not dependent on my integrity or skill, and operates with all wisdom and knowledge from an eternal perspective and with loving consideration for all involved… is worthy of our trust.



I have been mediating multiple conflicts of late, including a conflict in our village, which has become quite divisive.  I spoke at our small church service this last weekend about our Father’s desire for us to walk in harmony/unity while in disagreement.  When-ever there is more than one person involved in any situation, there should be disagreement!   I emphasized that conflict and disagreement are normal, and that it is our response that causes either to be healthy or destructive.  We are called in 1Cor 13. 1-4 to always put our care for another above our words, our “convictions”, our passions, our work, etc. and we so often lose sight of this, especially when we are “right”.  Never in our Father’s letters to us are the importance of our convictions, healthy living, wise choices, and passionate effort minimized, but these are never to be prioritized over our care for our brothers and sisters.



Morality can be unclear and quite cultural.  That we are all on a journey and that our fluid understanding is highly influenced by our culture is illustrated in the following scene from our clinic last week.  A man brought in his two wives to see me (most men here have more than one “woman”), each with a different problem.  That he genuinely cared for both was undeniable through his questions and interest in their well-being.  One of them had a serious illness and he was visibly shaken by the diagnosis and discussion.  I suggested that we pray for her and he humbly slid off his chair to his knees and passionately and tearfully joined me in praying for his wife and communicated that he trusted God’s (and my) care for them.



I know “Christians” who would say that men with two “women” and people practicing homosexuality, dissolving their marriage, having an affair, cheating for financial gain, etc are “living in sin” and cannot be in relationship with our Father because they are willfully disobeying His commands.  I’ve learned clearly over the years in observing myself and others that we are all “living in sin” (more screwed up than we know) and none of us is fully obedient to Jesus’ declarations regarding healthy behavior for individuals and communities.  Jesus made it clear that His stated ways are best for all of us (and the older I get the more I believe Him), but our relationship with Him (based on His favor despite our behavior) is more important than obedience, because obedience in the context of relationship is the key to His Kingdom, while obedience apart from relationship is religion, which He consistently denounced and challenged.  Every one of us has a flawed and changing morality, yet we each have the opportunity to grow in our relationship with our Father for all eternity.  In 3017, we will still marvel at his grace for us, at His beauty compared to us, at His works on our behalf, and at His joy over us, while we endeavor to walk more closely with Him.  We are growing and learning and so imperfect, as is this man mentioned above, yet in our Father’s eyes we are as beautiful as our messy, obstinate, arrogant and self-involved toddler children.



Will we live primarily in relationship with His Spirit, conversing with Him and in gratitude yielding to His voice inside of us?   Or will we live primarily according to principles and morality (the law)?  Paul made it pretty clear in his letter to Jesus-lovers in Rome that the former is rich life, while the latter is empty death.  He also said that walking in His Spirit will cause obedience and joy (as we will become more like Him), while primarily following the law will yield a joyless morality.  If we find ourselves today pursuing obedience to the law (in obligation and duty) with little relationship with Jesus, we must know that we can turn into the freedom of His joyful acceptance and nurture closeness with Him instead of living in the unpleasant bondage of dos and don’ts…



As I was traveling this week with MAF for several hours in their little plane, I observed in the cockpit that everything was still and appeared (and felt) motionless except for the hum of the engine and the care-free fly buzzing around us.  As I looked to the ground, 3000ft below, it appeared that we were moving, but quite slowly.  Then I glanced at our ground-velocity gauge and saw that we were flying at about 120mph…  Am I humbly aware that my perceptions of reality may be flawed?   Am I deceived today by what has my attention?



I love DEET.  I loved it in the Amazon to keep away the pium and the mosquitoes, and I love it here to keep away the flies.  On my morning walks in this early Angola summer, the flies are relentless and aggressive, always targeting my ears, eyes, nose and mouth.  I truly can’t bear them some days (pretty much a wimp) as I must walk with a short branch alternately swatting my shoulders, and still getting swarmed… unless I remember to spray on DEET.  They then bother me no longer!



I look at my local friends.  The flies (and fleas) are around their head all the time, and they are unbothered!  This ability for them to be content, smiling and pleasant while living in stifling heat, constantly swarmed by biting/buzzing insects, (everyone) having lost children they dearly cherished, sleeping on the ground, living without transportation other than walking, working their fields all day, (many) daily bearing deformations and debilitations from lack of access to basic medical care, knowing there is a huge world out there they will never see, realizing they have no options for improving their status, and eating the same corn mash twice daily… is beyond my ability to comprehend!



This is but one of so many things that I don’t understand!   There are many baffling and painful circumstances, many questions I can’t answer, and many differing opinions (and perceptions) out there…  So…  What will be the emphasis of my life?  What is my priority?  Whom will I follow?  Will I be strangled by my lack of understanding or will I trust the One who knows?  What will be enough?  At what point will I be content?  When will I no longer strive to change “what is” to “what could be”?  That these are choices independent of circumstances is so evident in the lives of those among whom I live…



Rural Angolans choose to be content in conditions that would cause (most) Americans to despair.  They choose (it doesn’t somehow come more naturally to them).  I’ve seen and heard them wrestle… and choose.  They know there is much reason to despair and they choose not to.  The humility and strength with which they make this choice so many times daily is confounding.



From where I live among these poorest of the poor in the highlands of central, rural Angola, it is quite sad and short-sighted that, in complete ignorance of history and current global realities, poverty is implicated in America as a primary cause for violence, depression, and discontentment.  Almost everyone in history, and most people in the world today, have suffered with less than our “poor”.  As a culture, we have lost sight of what once was obvious (and is still obvious among those with little): that contentment is much more about what we expect and desire from life than the pleasantness or unpleasantness of our experience.



AW Tozer wrote about the blessedness of possessing nothing and Paul indicated that we who know Jesus can be content in any circumstance.  Attractive words, but is this really possible?  Several bible writers indicate that as we walk in surrender to Jesus, He actually changes our desires and we become Kingdom-focused, satisfied in Him, and “needing” much less gratification from this world (fewer desires).  Our pleasure rests in Him – in His unchanging perspective and in His joy in us.



The lives of my friends would indicate that it is possible to be content apart from prosperity, leisure and comfort and in the midst of what many people would consider painful difficulty.  In the same way that the attitude of these simple folks blows my mind and catches my attention, our attitudes and perspectives can be radically different from those around us, causing them to take notice and consider an alternative perspective to life than what the material world offers.  We must recall that at some point we were each impacted by the radically different attitude/outlook/behavior we saw in someone, our concept of “normal” was shattered, and we gave consideration to the reality of an unseen God.



Contentment… in loss and pain, in unfulfilled desires, in rejection from peers, while lonely and misunderstood, in the absence of material prosperity, without a place to lay our head, without the latest gadgets, foods or fashions, etc?   Like Jesus…   Contentment in knowing our Father’s joy and pleasure in us…



Those who choose to revel in the fact that they are embraced, loved, cherished, protected, guided, respected, heard… children of God… and choose to make this relationship with their Father sufficient… are different.  They lose interest in the things of this world and become passionate about their Father, His desires and the cares of others.  They are light in the darkness that is the outcome of chasing self-fulfillment, material prosperity and contentment in this world.



Paul wrote that our Father’s grace and His favor could be sufficient…  that we could embrace and cherish our Father’s acceptance of us, with all of our weakness and screwed-up-ness, and that this could be enough.  He said this contentment would be unaffected by both the pleasant and the unpleasant of this world because we would trust our beloved Father to provide pain and pleasure as He sees fit.  This contentment would be unaffected by our sickness or health, our appearance, our popularity, our worldly success or failure, our possessions or lack of the same, our part in conflicts and disagreements, our life’s longevity, etc. because we would know that we are His beloved children, and that we will be with Him forever… and that would be sufficient!



What will you choose to embrace and pursue today?  What for you will be enough/sufficient to be content?


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