Dirty Needles, A Cup of Coffee, Three Days, Fighting Kids…


We returned to Cavango a couple weeks ago and have so enjoyed hosting a young physician couple from the US.  Heather visited us four years ago as a med-student at Ohio University (when we first moved to Cavango) and returns after residency with her husband, John, also a physician.  They are looking to give their lives serving the globally underserved and are investigating what that might look like and where they might serve.  We’ve had many delightful conversations and it’s been an honor to be a part of their journey/story.  They graciously roll with the idiosyncrasies of cross-cultural life quite well.  They’ve seen some unique and interesting diseases in these rural people, practiced some point-of-care-ultrasound, led discussions before the clinic day on improving our physical and spiritual health and have been received so well by the local staff.  They will be quite an asset to whichever team they join and many people will benefit from their lives because they are willing to go where they are needed, rather than where they personally desire to live.  Our Father calls all of us to the same, yet few have ears to hear…


Jesus said that our lives would know pleasure and trial, but he emphasized the pursuit of a sacrificial other-focus and long-term gratification, indicating that as we look back on our lives (even from eternity), those parts of our journey where our focus was on self-gratification will be remembered with regret, while those seasons lived pursuing and serving those with needs will be remembered with pleasure…  This young couple gets it!


An adorable two-year-old arrived with malaria and was doing better after two days of treatment when her father showed us an area on each buttocks that was tender and swollen.  She had two abscesses from dirty needle sticks.  Our nurse explained that the health posts (one of which was visited by this family the previous week) don’t have materials and, therefore, use the same needles on multiple patients (without cleansing the skin) until the point is so dulled that it can no longer pierce the skin.  I told the nurse that these health posts need to close their doors, because poor treatment is worse than no treatment!  There is a reason in medicine that we emphasize, “Do no harm.”  We see so many abscesses like these in both adults and kids.  Even sadder is that the injection is usually a worthless vitamin because the government health posts have no other medicine to kill malaria (though they always seem to have an overabundance of injectable vitamins).  The child writhed and screamed through an incision and the placement of a drain (the finger of a latex glove) to drain the significant amount of pus in the abscess, which was about 2cm deep to the skin.  She may need another procedure in a couple days if the more superficial abscess on the other side doesn’t drain spontaneously.


I was given a great illustration of what it must have been like 2000 years ago when Paul’s letters were read to the early gatherings of Jesus-followers throughout Asia and the Middle East.  A pastor who oversees the churches in our region of Angola wrote a letter to our little church and it was read on a Sunday morning in Portuguese and translated into the two local languages.  It was read slowly and clearly and everyone followed and discussed it after.  It was a surreal experience to watch this mostly illiterate community digest the message and react to the leader’s various thoughts, knowing that this was the principal communication of the early church.


Our patient volume is eerily down this month (<20 new patients/day), even as people continue to seek our help from farther and farther away.  People arrive daily from cities with 500-bed hospitals (which are mostly empty of medications and supplies) telling us that they traveled to the “bush hospital” because they have met people healed at our clinic.  We are also in the heart of malaria season, when we might normally see 25-50 new malaria patients/day, along with others with various other health issues.  I’m not sure what to make of it.  Our nurses suspect that the three-year-long economic crisis has reached a point that limits any spending at all in these poor, rural families, and that children are dying at home without a visit to the clinic.  It is so sad when a charge of a couple dollars, and about the same cost for medication to treat a deadly disease, is too expensive, when in other parts of the world, the same cost is considered reasonable for a cup of coffee…


Yesterday we saw a 39-year-old woman who walked for three days to be seen in our clinic… and it’s been three rain-filled days.  She likely has Leprosy on one leg and quite an unusual presentation, but she’s only had it a few months, so she will likely respond well to treatment, if we can get it.  We currently have medication sufficient for four patients for a month… and we have 15 active cases, each needing 6-12 months of treatment…


Sometimes we have the privilege of meeting someone who portrays something we hate.  We can easily forget that loving involves hating that which destroys what we love.  Jesus loves that which promotes intimacy with his Father, and hates that which destroys the same.  I love sacrificial generosity and other-focused humility so I, therefore, hate greed and arrogance, and the destruction they cause, especially among those who call themselves “Christians”.  I took a half day of my precious and brief visit to the US this past December to meet with a wealthy, “Christian” business owner because his company produces a product that could help thousands of women in Angola.  I met with him for about two hours at his huge and picturesque company facility and, for the majority of our meeting, I heard all about the great things he has done (and is doing) in his life.  During brief intervals when I was given opportunity to speak, I was able to squeeze in a statement or two before I was “privileged” with another of his heroic exploits and activities.  When I asked directly for his help, he refused (with an ever-present smile) and arrogantly offered advice as to what I needed to do to raise money for the people in Angola.  If he visited me in Angola for even a day, I doubt he would be inclined to give me more to do!  I left his facility and sat in my car for several minutes to compose my thoughts and share my feelings with my Father (I’m sure He’s heard worse, but it wasn’t very pretty).


As I processed the encounter, I was reminded of the contrast between humility and arrogance… Humility has a realistic opinion of self, is focused on the benefit of another and loves helping and serving, while arrogance has a high opinion of self and sees itself as unrealistically significant and as worthy to be served.  Humility is sober, recognizes its insignificance and neediness and often doesn’t feel good or look good, while arrogance is always smiling, needs no one, is confident and values feeling good and looking good (and is promoted as healthy in our culture).  One humble is often humiliated… ignored, misunderstood, disregarded, disrespected, rejected, and considered irrelevant, simple, naive and foolish…  To follow Jesus is to embrace humility.


I am critical of this man’s attitude, though I cannot judge the man, because I’m convinced I would have been much like him if I hadn’t seen beyond the palace walls.  I needed to live outside the palace (the US) to recognize the profound greed and self-focus within, and the incredible contrast and suffering outside.   Our lives within the palace are often devoted to personal comfort, recreation and leisure as a reward for our 8-to-5 efforts (we “deserve” our rewards).   We are too busy to be concerned with the lack in most of the world’s population – people just like us, in every way apart from opportunity.  Our arrogance is revealed in that we know all the answers (think political or theological dialogue) and advise freely with no compulsion to act, or to contribute, let alone sacrifice. 


As a contrast, I so admire our missionary team in Angola and the simplicity with which our 30+ missionaries choose to live so that more resources can be given to those with real needs.  I work alongside thoughtful people who never have theological or political discussions because of the prevailing desire to let nothing compromise what needs to be done for the beautiful people we serve.  I’m sure that the theology on our team varies from one end of the conservative/liberal spectrum to the other, we are represented by several countries, we have backgrounds with a diversity we can’t begin to measure, and we disagree all the time on methods with which to accomplish a task, but the prevailing attitude is, “What can I do to help?”, rather than expressing our opinion and/or demanding our way.  They live simply, constantly seeking ways to benefit those with material (temporal) and spiritual (eternal) needs.  I am daily encouraged and challenged by their demonstrated devotion to Jesus and those He loves…


Jesus calls His to humble service so much more than to preach our opinions, yet in the short time I met with this man, he represented much of the American church in that he considered his opinions and “counsel” more important than personal contribution.  This emphasis is dividing and destroying the American church.  We remember that it was the arrogant, opinionated moralists that Jesus criticized 2000 years ago while calling men to humble themselves and pursue an intimate relationship with Himself, while prioritizing the needs of their neighbor.


I’ve been asked why I am so focused on global needs and the rich opportunity before Jesus’ people to sacrifice their lives to meet them (like He did).  My first thought is, “Who will advocate for these people among those who know the Truth and hold most of this world’s resources?”  Who will call attention to the realities outside the palace?  Yes, life in the palace has challenges, but nowhere near the challenges outside.  The world in which I live (outside) is so radically different than the world with which most of the North American church is familiar (inside).  I long to see the day when more of Jesus’ people will surrender their lives to the King (instead of sing about it) and go wherever they are needed, motivated by, “Jesus, what(ever) can I do to help?” … no matter the cost…  


We can go, we can support, we can contribute, we can send…  Those with needs are next door and far away.


Laborers to the harvest…  There is so much work to be done…  The American church is much like kids in a house with toys in various rooms and all fighting each other to play with a few toys in a single room.  They are so consumed by what is immediately before them that they don’t realize the opportunities in the rest of the house.  Jesus invites all of us to follow His lead and forsake the familiar to seek out the treasure, which is housed in beautiful people (that He created) with real needs… in the other rooms!



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