On our way to Lubango last week (700km), we passed 15 police stops, had to show all our documents four times and twice they opened our luggage. This police state can get under one’s skin, at times, and the oppressive control enforced by the socialistic state (“It’s for your good”) makes our imperfect and messy US freedom look mighty good, by comparison. On our way back to Cavango a few days later using the same route, we passed perhaps four and we were never stopped…
A surgery team, led by our Angolan medical leader, Dr. Steve Foster, came to Cavango this month for a couple days to do some surgeries which I cannot do. It’s always such a blessing to have them and they benefit so many. Unfortunately, I was in bed for a day with malaria and missed some wonderful fellowship, though I was able to work with them the following day, seeing the non-surgery patients to free them up to do what they came to do. What a joy to work with them and meet some beautiful visitors who traveled with them.
Our volume is quite high at our hospital this month (1500 patients), even as malaria winds down for a couple months. We hope it continues. We average about 1000 patients/month and the wonders and recoveries are beautiful to behold. There has been, however, dissatisfaction expressed among some of our workers about salary and we recently had a long meeting about this sensitive issue. Our workers are paid less than those in government clinics (they average the equivalent of $3US per day, while our four nurses average about $15US/day) because we pay out only what comes in and we receive nothing from the government. Like all of us, sometimes these workers forget why we serve. There is no clinic or hospital for hundreds of miles with adequate medications and hundreds of sick people arrive here and leave with appropriate, evidence-based treatment and are cared for with the dignity every person deserves. The same healings that caused these workers to marvel soon after our arrival five years ago are now often taken for granted. When we lose our vision, our emotions and thoughts become unrestrained, and we give in to rumor, fear and suspicion. Please pray that I can renew the vision of selfless serving in our beautiful workers/servants.
As I arrived one morning, I saw a car parked in the front of the clinic. This happens rarely (no parking lot) and always arouses my curiosity. It was a couple in their sixties and they had traveled 12hr (!) by car to get here. They were a wealthy couple and had been to several city hospitals without resolution of his problem. We were able to quickly diagnose his Atrial Tachycardia and, with pretty simple medication, he was already improved the following day, before his return home.
Virtually every patient arrives with a complaint other than scabies, but almost every rural person I see has full-body scabies noted on exam. I have picked up scabies a couple times from patients and it itches as badly as poison ivy. An infestation in one small location on the body was difficult for me to tolerate and these folks live with it all over, every day. I have no idea how!
We were given some magazines by some visitors. After looking through them, we burned them with our trash. Some neighbor kids often pick through our burned trash for “treasures” and one kid found a picture of a TRex dinosaur hovering over a man (from a motion picture) and took it home. His father brought it to us and asked where in the world these animals lived. Can you imagine what he thought when he first saw this image? He’s never seen TV or movies and has no idea about the fictional accounts that we so take for granted. He was full of fear and wondered if he could possibly ever encounter such a scene or animal!
Our TB patients are required to spend their first two months of treatment with us. We have 30+ patients with us currently, many arriving in serious condition, because they delayed coming for months. This is more than many urban TB treatment centers in this country. One such patient was quite disruptive. She was a confessed witch and wandered the grounds at night, chanting and singing, disrupting the rest of those trying to sleep on the cold ground (30s at night) near a fire. Our director approached me one day when this woman was about 2 weeks away from completing her two months and asked if she could possibly be discharged home (for the sake of the other patients). I interviewed her and she presented herself well and said she had been “thinking” and “praying” to “god”. She was not antagonistic and did not present herself as psychotic or delusional. She had been compliant with her medications and had been pleasant in all of our interactions. She was loved and served here in her infirmity for six weeks. I asked her if I could pray for her and she accepted. I invited Jesus to touch her and to reveal Himself to her. We are called to love and serve people, not to change them. If any transformation occurs, it will be between them and Jesus, who is ever, and always, pursuing those He loves. One plants, another waters…
Our quarterly trip with MAF to the desperately poor southeastern province of the country was cancelled this month because of delays by the government in validating our pilot’s license to fly, a process that they require regularly renewed (controlling police state again). This is frustrating for us as many will go without much needed treatment because of our absence. With MAF not flying, we also cannot transfer patients to CEML for surgery. Ben was on the road for 10hr yesterday taking a woman to Huambo for urgent surgery!
I’m reminded how many Jesus followers (me) forget the authority of the One they follow. How much greater He is than any darkness, confusion, destructive influence, or governmental delay. We need not fear evil (or be frustrated by it) when walking with the eternal Light (“greater is He in you than he that is in the world”), though we are certainly wise to maintain our respect for the destruction that can befall those outside the Light, which should motivate us to love those trapped in confusion and destructive behavior, rather than judge and condemn them. The way some people attack those who believe differently than they do reveals a shallow defensiveness and insecurity (fear) that is certainly unlike the One these “Christians” claim to follow. Jesus indicated that we need not fear because we know whose we are, and where we are going. In our suffering or frustration, we can know that He knows and that He will, or will not, intervene according to what He knows is best… Knowing our Father’s love for us (and others), and that His will is best, even if we (or others) suffer, casts out fear and brings peace beyond understanding.
Several people expressed fear of the above woman, in this culture which places far more importance on the spirit-world than does our materialistic US culture (matter is all that matters). Both the unseen world and the seen world are real and discernment is needed to wisely navigate both. Sadly, many in the church haven’t a clue. When the recent outbreak of the deadly disease in the DRC was almost under control with sacrificial help from people from all corners of the world, two people with Ebola were encouraged to leave the quarantine at the hospital (by pastors) to receive prayer at a gathering of unwise people (kindest description I could think of). They both died that night and potentially infected fifty more people (who could, in turn, infect many more). This distorted thinking is prevalent in the US, as well (anti-vaccine-ers, for example, who have never seen tetanus, typhoid, diphtheria, measles, etc and have no idea how to understand or apply medical evidence/studies and assess risk/benefit re medical remedies for individuals and for communities).
I love being able to daily converse with my Father, share my concerns and seek His wisdom, but if only prayer is needed, why have Christian hospitals served the desperate, wounded and suffering for 2000 years (how many islamic, hindu, and “nones” hospitals are springing up in areas of the world where there is no material reward for medical service)? Of course, these christian servants prayed, but they got their hands dirty, put themselves at risk for contracting disease (many died serving the sick), and did what would practically help the hurting. Jesus said that even giving a glass of water to a needy person would not go unrewarded! The hospital and medical service movement has revolutionized this world and has historically been largely run by sweaty and courageous (always at risk) people passionately and selflessly obeying Jesus’ admonition to serve the suffering. Is health care really different than other key aspects of our lives? If prayer is really more important than everything else (like with these “christian” pastors and patients in the DRC), why work? Pray for a job completed and money in our account. Why take our car to a mechanic? Pray for God to repair the car. Why plow and plant our fields, or prepare our meals? Pray for food. Why build a house? Pray!
We have it so backwards. We get to converse with our Father and we get to participate in helping another and it is a privilege and the key to life! We put health in some kind of spiritual category and eschew wisdom! So many church-goers oversimplify sickness and health because of wishful thinking (“God wants no one sick”) and verses taken out of context (“By His stripes we are healed”) and we foolishly seek “supernatural” remedies when our Father loves it when we go to a fellow human being for help. He loves allowing people to participate in His creative and restorative works, as demonstrated throughout biblical history. He sent Moses to free the Israelites, David ruled as King, Joseph saved countless from starvation, prophets spoke His words, Solomon (of all people) spoke wisdom, He used a prostitute and a donkey to communicate to His prophets, He sent out the twelve to turn the world upside down, etc. He created the world and could have done any of the above quite dramatically in a way we would label as “supernatural”, yet He loves having “normal”, flawed ambassadors, messengers and laborers carry out His will. We are so much like the man on the roof of his house in a flood refusing to get in a friend’s simple rowboat because he is praying and “trusting God” for his rescue. Must God’s intervention in our lives always be dramatic or does He work through the mundane and familiar (or our neighbor)?
Humility recognizes its need for help from both God and man, while some people see more value in “praying” for the dramatic. They pray with “authority”, arrogantly demanding that God meet their needs, as if He, and their circumstances, are under their command. Listen to how some people pray for God to heal them or others! How differently they might speak to Him one day when “every knee shall bow” before Him, face to face. We would be wise to appreciate reality while walking closely with Jesus, no matter the outcome, in this world where mortality is still 100%, and where Lazarus and every one of Jesus’ apostles died without being “healed” or rescued.
Every moment we live is a miraculous gift but we often expect to be “whole” in a world where Jesus promised we would face tribulation and death. He said that His Kingdom is more than this world (what we see, touch, feel) and that our hope lies in our union with Him now, and in the life to come, a hope validated by His resurrection after He experienced death (as will each and every one of us).
People are not our enemies; they are worthy of our respect where-ever we may find them on their (ever difficult) life’s journey, because they cannot harm us outside of our Father’s awareness (recall Jesus before Pilate). And if our Father knows, we can trust that He will always allow only that which is for the greater good (from His perspective, not ours – “your will be done”). It is this loosened-grip trust that yields peace. We don’t need to have it all figured out, have all the answers, or perform perfectly, as life is found in seeking and trusting the One who does.
We can love people who might harm us because we don’t need their reciprocation, as we have our Father’s pleasure. We can give freely and sacrificially because we are not concerned with our own affairs, as we are in our Father’s eternal care. We can serve where there is risk to our lives, because He is with us, in life and in death (His promise). We can give our lives for others because of our certain reunion with Him after.
Any of us who have sought to love those in darkness know that criticism, judgment and heavy-handedness rarely encourages one to see the Light. The radical message of Jesus is that light overcomes darkness via love and humility rather than power and coercion. Jesus’ Kingdom multiplies via embracing people while humbly sharing the truth of His love for them, knowing that our message will often be rejected, yet loving still. We forget that Jesus’ Kingdom is centered on Him drawing people to Himself and we are but instruments that can help or hurt His work. We most often hinder His work (and our health) by forgetting who He is, and elevating ourselves to a place of necessity.
Like Jesus at Pilate’s “hearing”, we can trust our Father when surrounded by darkness, knowing that He can intervene at any time, in any way He chooses. If He chooses to intervene or chooses not to, it is for good (from His perspective). Most often, we don’t appreciate unpleasant circumstances that are for good (the cross) and, unlike Jesus, we can be found whining and lamenting why God is not intervening on our behalf or on the behalf of another…
Over time, I’m more impressed at just how radical Jesus was and is. He seeks not to change this temporal world and make all things pleasant, but rather He conceals Himself within His people (the ultimate act of humility by the Alpha and Omega) as they love, serve and rescue those captive and suffering. His invitation is to every screwed up person alive, to join Him, abide with Him, walk with Him, suffer with Him and serve those He loves… with Him. This world is in desperate need of sweaty servants willing to step into others’ darkness and pain to lend a helping hand. Who will you serve and love today?