We have returned to Angola from a delightful month in the US connecting with our kids (in every way possible) and Tim’s family in Toledo. We talked, played games, and talked some more. It was nice to reconnect with all of them and we return to Angola richer than when we left a month ago. We will return to the US next December as well, Lord willing, as we are experimenting in this new season of separation from our kids, and yearly December visits may be one way we can remain relationally connected with them on more than a superficial (and distant) level, while maintaining well all we do here. We don’t ever want to discount the fact that our Father specifically gave us each other for this brief lifetime, with purpose.
It’s a new year! 2017 was quite a year for me (and my family) and has somewhat forcefully brought into focus what is important, for both this earthly life and for eternity.
Betsy suffered with very aggressive hip arthritis over the past two years, progressing to the point of difficulty walking, necessitating a hip replacement surgery in August, from which she is recovering nicely – almost pain-free. This surgery is such a privilege, available for very few historically with this common and ugly disease (no one in Angola has this treatment available to them, yet thousands suffer severe, arthritic pain every day), and we are so grateful!
Luke, our oldest, was diagnosed with testicular cancer, which appears to have been cured with a July surgery, though he requires extensive follow-up for the next few years. There was about a month (before definitive answers) which involved many concerns about his future health, which was followed by much good news after the surgery to remove the tumor. He has handled it all quite well and is determining how he might navigate the next steps of his brief earthly journey. A few years ago this common cancer was fatal to all men who contracted it, and Luke will survive it thanks to the efforts of so many people in research and development of diagnostic medical equipment, pathology procedures, medications, surgical anesthesia/procedures, etc. Another blessing beyond our control. Blessing and tragedy outside of our control are both beyond my ability to process and understand, yet I know our Father has purpose in both…
In May, I suffered ARDS from malaria (severe lung inflammation), which was quite life-threatening for about 12hr while at home in “the bush”, forcing several urgent flights to an ICU in Johannesburg, South Africa. This was followed by a heart catheterization (because the lung inflammation caused frequent angina from the stress it caused on the heart – I couldn’t walk 100ft without angina) that revealed the need for two additional stents and revision of a previous stent, all of which beautifully opened my heart arteries more than they have been for five years, since my original stent-placement. I was diagnosed with latent tuberculosis and took meds for six months to kill it. I treat patients with TB about 5x/day, so this wasn’t surprising and almost all of these people would die from the disease without treatment, so I willingly accept the personal risk associated with treating them, as they suffer from this disease far more than I ever will. Then in October, while walking through a neighborhood in the mountains surrounding Lubango, I was quite unexpectedly mauled by a large dog with certain rabies (according to the local residents who had already called him rabid but couldn’t catch him – no one has guns here) and received multiple vaccines to try to ward off the onset of this universally fatal disease. I’m grateful that it appears at this point that the vaccines were successful at warding off the disease. I see several deaths from rabies every year, some after receiving all of the appropriate vaccinations, because the vaccines in Angola are almost always impotent, as they rarely remain appropriately refrigerated. The uncertainty of the potency of the Angolan vaccines I received caused me to face my mortality squarely for almost two months of not knowing (until the end of December), again wrestling with the possibility of my own death and all that this implied.
Being directly confronted by one’s mortality prompts challenging questions re one’s activities, priorities, and relationships. Some questions that I revisited in the ICU in JoBurg, and in these last couple months following the rabies bite, follow… This is personal, but perhaps you might be challenged as I’ve been…
Should we live in rural Angola with its 1900 risks (life-expectancy in the US that year was 40ish, like the current Angola) or in the US with its 2018 risks (double the life-expectancy of Angola)? We face this choice, again, every time we return to the US. To hear much of the preaching in the US today, it is far more important for us to “grow where we are planted” than to proactively go where the needs are greatest. We even hear, “Needs shouldn’t determine our calling; Jesus must determine our calling”. Jesus left His Kingdom home and came to live and die among us because of our need! I wonder if many churches are preaching a Jesus of their own imagination? He didn’t send someone else to do the work, He didn’t consider his “financial” security and maintaining His kingdom status among his peers worth saving, He saw the tremendous cost and considered us more important than any pain, suffering, humiliation, etc (because He loved) and He went to where people were in need.
Where is the need today? Where can you go to meet that need? Is He specifically calling you to go to meet those with desperate needs or to stay and confront those hurting in some way? I have a friend who gives up his leisure time to befriend and serve the prostitutes and street people in his city. I have other friends who have established multiple free health clinics, serving thousands without otherwise access to good care. Many of the missionaries with whom I work do the most menial tasks (requiring little skill and much devotion) to directly love the people here in any way they can, always looking for ways to tell them about their Father and His love for them. There is no glory in missionary-work-done-well, as the tasks most needed are humble, small and un-noticed. Like Luke never knowing all the people behind his successful cure, the vast majority of those who embrace Jesus through missionary work will never know all who contributed. There are so many ways to serve for those with the courage to obey Jesus and “go”. It’s never easy to leave home and what is familiar (we are now again experiencing the well-known sadness of leaving), but is my sadness more important than the suffering of those in physical and spiritual darkness?
Giving from one’s surplus (your leftover time, leftover money, leftover energy, leftover clothes, food, medicine, etc) is admired today, while leaving one’s life/family/financial security to serve others (the hallmark of Jesus and his early followers) is not even considered an option (at least I never hear of it spoken in churches, let alone admired or recommended). My malaria, rabies and TB are known risks where we have chosen to serve, yet helping cure people of these and other fatal diseases is exactly why we left the US, as there are so many rural Angolans who face these diseases (and others) with no access to treatment or care. Should concern for my own health/life outweigh concern for these people? What did my King do? What did those do who lived with Him 2000 years ago? They left their homes and families and jobs to go to where the spiritual and physical needs were greatest, and many died where they went. Why did Jesus’ closest followers do this? Because they were with Him daily and His life’s emphasis was going and giving Himself for those in need (lost, confused, hurting), and they followed Him. Jesus came to earth to personally experience the life of those in need, to touch especially hurting, confused, and humble people. We can do the same as the One we also claim to follow…
It would, of course, be safest for me to live and work where there is available treatment for the complications of heart disease, but so many people in rural Angola have heart disease and no–where to go. Does my life have more value than that of all of the people I am able to treat and tell about Jesus? Should I live where it is safer for me and discount the value of helping 50-100 people/day where there is no one else to help them? This is a question for every person who claims to be a Jesus-lover. Do I live in a manner that is best for me and give a little to those hurting and lost or do I live in such a way that I give most of my finances, time and energy to those hurting and lost, and allow a little for me?
Should this life be like heaven? Or, as AW Tozer put it, “Is this life a playground or a battleground?” We are often told that we need to rest, slow down, enjoy life, lighten up, get away, decrease our stress, etc. I am in no way denying the need for appropriate rest and enjoyment, but Jesus rather indicated and demonstrated that this life was to be abandoned for others and the above “rewards” would come after this life, and He calls (anyone who will) to go to those hurting and lost and be His hands and voice to a hurting world… There is still (in 2018) way too much hurting and confusion, in so many places (especially outside of the US borders), for me to focus on “enjoyment” and leisure… Jesus still calls us today to abandon our home, family, comforts and security to follow Him to the hard places where people are hurting. “All who abandon houses and home for my sake…”
Is risking my life for the sake of those who are hurting, and haven’t heard of my wondrous Father, “extreme” or “normal” Kingdom behavior? Does risking one’s life make sense when many might benefit? It seems pretty clear to me that all we are given is to be given away (not a tithe), for the benefit of another (Jesus is our example, He gave it all away and lived on so little). My life will end soon (whether in one or thirty years) and I will largely be forgotten, but each person I help know Jesus will be changed by Him, as will those around them, their children, their family, etc. Every person healed in our medical work will have more opportunities to know our beautiful Father. Every life that benefits from my life will impact at least several others and the ripple effect will continue for generations, into eternity. That is motivation to give one’s life away! In the church today, tithes should be a kingdom joke and a story of old of how the Jews behaved in the foreshadowing, before they really knew their Father. We are so blinded by the greed of this present age that we admire those who give away so much as 10%. It seems pretty clear to me that Jesus’ message was one of abandonment of our lives, our security, our money for the sake of those He loves who have more need than we do. I write all of this not to gain any twisted admiration, but to simply communicate how I am re-evaluating everything and that this is why we do what we do… the One we serve has asked us to!
All of us can have this perspective, and mine has become a bit sharper this year only because my Father allowed me a little suffering to help me “see”. Light always has more impact in darkness, and the light of these truths is more clear to me after having walked in some personal darkness/illness. There are also many other forms of darkness in this world into which we can shine our light and make a difference. So many are confused, forgotten, neglected, wounded, abused and suffering both physical and emotional pain. We can give our life or give from our surplus… My difficulties this year have created in me a greater desire to go to the difficult and darkest places (darkness doesn’t come to the light) and impact as many lives as possible before I die, and give everything I can (my effort, my energy, my finances, etc.) to get it done. I want to especially seek out those confused, forgotten, neglected, wounded, abused and suffering and communicate to them in any way possible, the incalculable value they have in my Father’s eyes. Please join me! I do not issue this invitation lightly. The laborers are so few and the hurting so great… Perhaps you might pray that your Father send difficult circumstances that will allow you to see His Kingdom priorities more clearly? A radically simple and pure devotion to Him was so important to Jesus that He said that whatever might get in your way, your career, financial security, fear of failure, insecurity, your hand, your tongue, etc… cut it out!
What about my significance, self-esteem and what people might think? Directly facing one’s mortality is a humbling experience, which reveals the truth re our insignificance in this world. I again realize that in a generation or two, I will, at most, be a name on a page or a vague impression in someone’s distant memory. Today, I’m seeing a bit more clearly the totality of who I am and what I do. Am I doing that which I want to do if I find I have a week/month/year to live? I want to more devotedly sweat and serve in the pleasure of the One I follow, and know more fully how He already cherishes me, enough to sacrifice His kingdom status and humbly go the hard places (earth) to sweat and serve and to reveal His Father to me, to directly help a few, and to suffer and die… for me… and for you.
We have between 80 and 100 individuals and families contributing between $10 and $1000 monthly to help meet the radical physical and spiritual needs of those in rural Angola. We are so grateful to partner with these friends and family, who illustrate that the prevalent greed of the US church doesn’t have everyone in its grasp. Please pray with us for others who will sacrificially journey with us in our service of these beautiful people. We are hoping to put up four simple buildings this year to enable every inpatient to have a bed and a roof over their head, while adding a solar system for electricity (we are 5-6hr from fuel for a generator) to provide a simple laboratory to assist in accurate diagnoses. These rural people have tremendous value in the eyes of their Maker and He calls all of His followers to be His hands and voice in serving them and leading them to relationship with Jesus.