Math, Hippos, Drains, Showers…


Betsy needs human companionship!  I overheard her talking to one of our dogs the other day, as she politely asked the dog to do something and then, when Dexter didn’t think that her request lined up with his plans for his day and did his own thing, Betsy responded in frustration with, “That’s not what I meant!”  She appeared incredulous that she had been misunderstood.  Would you consider visiting us to help with Betsy’s isolation?  We will be in the US for the month of December visiting our kids, so that should help!


Luzia is fifteen years old and came to the hospital after two weeks of severe abdominal pain, associated with vomiting and fever, worsening over the last couple days.  She had peritonitis, from a perforated intestine secondary to typhoid fever and we flew her via MAF to Lubango the following day for surgery.  I thought she had appendicitis, as the two illnesses can appear quite similarly after they perforate.  Most impressive about Luzia is that she arrived at our hospital after a six-hour motorbike ride on the dirt, which means that for six hours, every bump and hole struck by the motorbike caused excruciating pain.  To illustrate, when I examined her and lightly laid my hand flat on her belly and tapped that hand with my other index finger, she couldn’t take the pain caused by the resulting slight vibration.  Her father said she literally screamed at every bump, which on these “roads” would be about 10-30 per minute!  I simply cannot imagine…


Kingdom Math: Though Jesus said that the value of one is equal to the value of ninety-nine, His life and death also demonstrated that “many” have more value than one… the benefit of many is worth the loss/abandonment/sacrifice of one…  This applied to Jesus, the first missionary, who left home and gave His single life for the benefit of many, and it still applies to all who, like Him, have abandoned familiarity, comfort, and relationships for the benefit of others…


Kingdom Rewards: “The American Dream” is that we work hard so that we might benefit.  We enjoy the fruit of our labor.  In the Kingdom of God, we work hard so that others might benefit.  Another enjoys the fruit of our labor…


Smile…  I don’t remember ever (even once) climbing a set of evenly spaced/measured stairs during my time in Angola.


Describing the US to someone living in rural Angola in words and concepts they understand has given me great understanding as to how difficult (impossible) it would be for someone to describe heaven in familiar terms to someone living on earth.


The modern west (including the church) is experiencing culturally what Solomon experienced as King many years ago.  In North America and Europe, we live in more comfort and convenience than any people in history.  We are also experiencing the futility, superficiality and emptiness of lives consumed by that which we can see and touch, as we de-emphasize the significance of those qualities of life unseen, such as those that characterize the Spirit of God – love, joy, peace, patience, faithfulness, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control.  Solomon communicated effectively the fruit of chasing the things of this world and we would be wise to review and remember his thoughts and conclusions in his book (Ecclesiastes).


In the past couple weeks, we haven’t experienced much rain and the days have been warm.  It averages about 88F degrees in our consultation room and I am always drenched with sweat while my patients will be wearing coat(s) from sleeping out in the cool night and they never sweat at all!


This past week, we had incredible privilege of hosting two visiting surgeons (Brigit from Germany and Becca from the US) to do some minor surgeries in Cavango.  It was quite an experience, in non-sterile conditions, with headlamps and with one nurse assigned to spraying flies and wasps with insecticide.   Two men arrived for hernia repair.  One walked with one shoe for two full days and the other with two shoes for one full day to pay the equivalent of $60US to have their surgery with local anesthesia (they grunted and groaned quite a bit but didn’t move).  Tough men!


Marijn, our pilot with MAF from Holland joined us on Sunday for a hike through the extensive river valley near which we live and he brought his drone to search the rivers for wildlife (so many areas are simply inaccessible by foot).  The drone was a lot of fun and my first exposure to this fascinating technology.  He found a family of hippos about two km from our house and videoed them extensively as they swam around in a very secluded bend of “our” river (the Cubango River)!  We hiked around the area at first light on Monday, before work, and couldn’t get close to them.  It is quite exciting to know that, along with a large population of crocodiles in the area, we also have these hippos (and likely more).  I will enjoy seeking them out on future walks, though with caution, because they are known to be more dangerous than a lion when accidentally confronted…


I’ve written about “traditional medicine” or jungle medicine, the “natural” “remedies” available in every village. It is rare to see patients who haven’t been “treated” in this manner before arriving at our clinic.  Most arrive with many, small, healed scars in the area of their pain.  For example, if they have abdominal pain (peptic ulcer disease is rampant), they will have 50 – 100 of theses scars, about this size (——) around their abdomen (see photo).  I learned this week that, apparently, the “healer” makes all of these superficial cuts (sterile knife?) and then rubs into them an oily solution that he/she has concocted from animal products and plants.  The more it hurts, the more the “patient/victim” likes it and believes that the “poison” in the oil will kill the source of the illness.  Because of the natural course of some illnesses and the placebo effect, many have positive outcomes and give credit to the oil (and to the “healer”) for the cure.  Many end up with superficial infections, which is believed to be evidence that the poison is doing its job!  Virtually every person in this region begins treatment for virtually every illness with these “healers”, who do absolutely nothing to cure any illness.  If ever there was evidence that we humans can be deceived, it is this, and the same sad and costly game, dressed differently, is happening all over the world and has been deceiving (and costing) the ignorant (and gullible) since the beginning of time…


Yesterday morning, in four rooms in our clinic, I was simultaneously draining three liters of fluid from a young man’s left chest secondary to TB, draining more than five liters of fluid from a woman’s abdomen secondary to severe cirrhosis from using traditional medicine (5th time we drained Severina’s abdomen – see photos), draining three liters of fluid from another young man’s chest from TB/AIDS (7th time we drained this man’s chest in the past month – Vasco from a previous post), and draining an older man’s bladder of urine because he had urinary retention secondary to an enlarged prostate.  I stopped in the hallway and realized that I had four people draining unwanted fluids into buckets and thought few of my US colleagues would believe what we do in these simple conditions – because of you, who contribute to this work and care enough for the rural Angolan people to send your hard-earned money to help them.  Thank you!


The sense of caring for the environment in which they live, so that their children won’t be harmed or hampered, is sadly nonexistent in rural Angola.  There is, for example, no sense that burning large tracts of land every year might be harmful.  There is no thought that one would do anything with trash other than throw it on the ground (trash pickup of any kind is unknown in the rural areas).  There is no sense that depositing human waste on the ground could harm plants or the people that eat these soiled plants days to months later.  And, like humans anywhere, some are open to learning from outsiders (people different than them), and others are greatly opposed to the same, seeing any manner of change as an insult to their ancestors, “who did it this way”.  ALL of the land around us in burned every year, land used for farming, wooded land, grassy land, marshy land…  It’s been done like this for generations and there is no discussion about anything other than this being best for the environment (I’m laughed at when I suggest that we could withhold burning for a few years to perhaps bring back the local flora and fauna).  Their world is small, their knowledge anecdotal, their ignorance great, and their human pride normal!  There is no opportunity here to learn through books, newspapers, internet, etc, whereas in the US, we have much opportunity to learn from research and history, but there is much more attention given to our fun, shiny, and new bells and whistles than to sober learning from our forefathers’ successes, sacrifices and mistakes.


There is always talk of “revival” in the church.  With the best of intentions, those who have met Jesus want to see many others meet Him.  Many hope that this will happen in a large wave of people bowing to the King, but in my work I must remember often that the Kingdom doesn’t typically grow its roots this way (there have been very few “waves” in 2000 years).  At the beginning of the rainy season here, it isn’t unusual to have storms with 3-4 inches of rain over several hours.  The ground is hard from months of no rain, and almost all of the water ends up running over the ground downhill to the rivers, and the days following the rains find the soil really about the same as it was before so much water fell.  Then we will have days of lesser, more persistent showers, and the hard soil begins to soften and becomes ready for planting (by hand).


We know that quick changes rarely last, that fast growth rarely perseveres and that a life without Jesus is comparable to hard soil, typically becoming harder with time.  It takes many showers, of various types, over time, to break up fallow ground and make it ready for unseen, life-giving Kingdom seeds.  Our Father desires to send us to impact someone who doesn’t know Jesus through a small act of kindness, a timely and affectionate embrace, acceptance of them as a person, the honor and respect we show them, etc (small showers).  It is the same in cross-cultural work.  Trust in our words is always earned by how we treat people!  When we hear talk about revival, we don’t hear talk of humble serving, going to the hurting, spending time listening to the confused and empty, going where we can be a part of people’s lives through sweaty, mundane and uncomfortable interaction, etc., yet these are the Kingdom activities (rather than crusades/conferences) that will result in people wondering about our Father and considering relationship with Him.


We had a beautiful illustration of this in the physical world this week in Luzia when she arrived with peritonitis.  Some of the people involved in “saving” her from certain death were her caring parents who sent her to the private clinic with their savings, the motorbike driver who brought her to the hospital through the mud and rain, the people who registered her and took her vital signs, Betsy and me and all of those who support our work, our ambulance driver who took her to the air strip an hour away, our MAF pilot, Marijn (and all who support his work and MAF), the ambulance driver in Lubango, the CEML hospital staff, our surgeon colleague, Steve Foster (and all who support his work), the nurses in surgery, the post-op nurses, the administrators and janitors at CEML, etc, etc.  Not one of these people could have saved her life individually, yet they all played a role in her “salvation”.  In the exact same way, Jesus uses many parts of His body in drawing every person to Himself, where they find eternal acceptance and companionship.  One person plants, another waters, another reaps…


Also, when we talk about “revival”, we must remember that most of those we encounter will not be interested in a life surrendered to the living Jesus (broad road), and some will feign interest and not follow through (rocky, thorny soil), while others will show much superficial enthusiasm and their passion will die as quickly as it began.  So often, it seems the church would be thrilled with false, dramatic, emotion-driven, superficial and measureable short-term fruit…  Many in the church will try to produce revival through their own, attractive “church” ideas and efforts (Martha), apart from truly surrendering to Jesus (Mary).  Jesus, however, taught and demonstrated going to those who didn’t know Him and to those hurting physically and emotionally.  He calls us to meet together (church gatherings) not to do Kingdom activities, but for the purpose of regrouping and refocusing to again “go” to the difficult people and difficult places (Kingdom activity).  We are sent out into the world and we were never instructed to live how we want (American Dream) and call the world to us.  A word of caution: if the majority of a church’s “Kingdom activity” is within its own walls, it is not demonstrating the heart of the One it claims to follow…  Those who don’t know Jesus rarely seek out the rain (church), but their hard soil softens when they encounter showers, where they are, as they are…  Will you join me today in considering where you might go to take “showers” to someone’s hard soil (life)?


Thanksgiving is a great reason for a holiday.  I’m so grateful today that I know my gracious and loving Father and that He knows me and delights in me, despite all my failings!


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