Retreat, Vacation, Suckers, Surgeries…


The missionaries of Angola (about 40 adults and 20 kids) gathered the first week of July for our annual camping retreat at out colleagues’ missionary farm in rural Tchincombe.  It was an absolute delight.  Probing conversations about each other’s work, free time gathered around camp fires, excellent messages, great food/fellowship and vulnerable and honest prayer time for each family.  I believe we all left encouraged and rested, even when sleeping in tents with 40d, starry, clear nights.


I had fallen while running the week before and fractured and dislocated a rib, so there was some pain, especially at night on the ground, but this took nothing away from the wonder of interacting with people I consider my heroes.  Tireless, selfless men and women, committed to Jesus and to the Angolan people, from many different countries, sharing every meal together while sharing our joys and struggles.


A team of adults, including an engineer and a physician, volunteered their time to watch kids while the adults gathered.  I’m so often blown away by the beauty in God’s family.  Where in the world otherwise would you find an engineer and physician pay a lot of money to take a trip to an unfamiliar, remote location and sleep through cold nights with no heat for a week to watch kids?  A long-term missionary and pastor from Westover church in Greensboro, NC, David Harrop shared several messages from 2Cor to encourage us to deeper devotion to Jesus, to each other, and to those He loves.  I won’t remember a single word he shared, but through his messages I was able to see and hear his heart, something I won’t forget.  He and his wife, Mary, encouraged us all greatly.  It did raise a question in me, though.  Why is it that we would often rather hear from strangers than from people we know?  In churches, as well, more people will often attend a message from an outsider than from a local leader.  This seems opposite of the recommendations of the writings from Paul/Peter/John, as we should desire more to hear from someone whose credible and consistent life we witness and admire.  The American “celebrity culture” has sadly infiltrated the church, where most people don’t even personally know their pastor.  We have many missionaries on our team who have remained faithful to Jesus for 20-30 years in very difficult circumstances and I hope we have the opportunity to hear them teach and encourage us at future retreats.


Before the retreat, I was encouraged by a physician from Canada who has been a committed “sender” of missionaries for many years.  He visited us in Angola and encouraged me to more fully pursue and communicate my passion to reach the desperate, rural people we serve.   He wants to help us raise money for simple buildings in Cavango to secure a bed and put a roof over each inpatient, while improving our medical service through basic lab work and x-ray capability.  He is, like so many on our beautiful support team, serving the people of Angola by faithfully sending resources that will benefit many.  We need more laborers on both sides of the pond!


The logistics here are such a mess.  We have a container of donated beds through SIM on the coast that we cannot get into the country (we’ve already been fined $1000 in less than a month) because of crazy details demanded in the documents (first world demands without the technology and communication skills to pull it off).  We also need a truck to bring the container to Cavango and this is no easy task, because of the risk to any truck tackling our rural tracks.  By the time the (free) beds arrive at Cavango, we will spend over $500 for each!  We will likely buy 50 additional simple twin beds in Angola for about the same price (!) to complete our projected quantity of beds, as we don’t desire to repeat the logistics and human resources needed to get more donated beds transported here.


Betsy and I vacationed in Namibia with Ben and Meredith (what a joy to do life together for a couple weeks), and we also sought treatment for the dormant, liver form of Vivax malaria, which is not available in Angola.  Most of our malaria in Angola is the more dangerous falciparum type, which we can treat, but Betsy and I both contracted the Vivax type in the last few months and need the treatment to keep this disease from recurring (it already has hit us several times).  While visiting a doctor’s office, the receptionist needed an address to complete her paper work and she had difficulty believing that there was no mail delivery or cell coverage where we lived.  They don’t seem far away (400mi to the border) but it’s a different world, for sure.  Maybe Mexico and the US is similar in contrast and proximity.


We already dearly miss Ben and Mer’s presence.  We stayed in one of our favorite locations, Swakopmund, Namibia.  It has beautiful beaches and sand dunes, cool weather, is inexpensive, and July is “off” season, so it is ideal for a family that likes to do little while together on vacation.  It’s a three-day drive from Cavango, but worth it!


We are currently back in Cavango and enjoying Luke’s presence with us, as he flew into Namibia and drove with us back to Cavango and will be here for another week.  What a joy to have long conversations at home, eat meals together, get to know each other again, and see patients together in the clinic.


Our neighbor family with two adults and 6 kids bathe at our back yard faucet once or twice weekly.  We know they are present when we hear them playing with the water and splashing around as they bathe (as they are as I write).  Water is such a fun and simple toy that is not available daily to so many kids here.


I returned to only about 40 patients camping around the clinic and waiting to be seen (this is the slowest time of the year), five of which need surgery.  One eight-year-old girl had been in our hospital for a week, receiving antibiotics when she needed urgent surgery.  She died the night after I saw her and before we could fly her to Lubango for surgery.  A 24 y/o young man had the same disease for the same length of time and is recovering without surgery.  He is the exception, as the illness, peritonitis, is usually a killer without surgery and here is most commonly caused by intestinal perforation (a wound in the intestinal wall that opens and allows stool out into the sterile abdominal cavity – which houses the 30 feet of intestines) from typhoid fever, peptic ulcer disease or appendicitis.  Unfortunately, the nurse who I’ve trained to work in my absence didn’t make the right call on this girl and hopefully will learn from this for next time.  These deaths from preventable and treatable illnesses don’t get any easier to bear…


I also saw a 48-year-old woman who Ben took to Huambo last month for surgery for an inflamed gall bladder because it hadn’t resolved in a week.  She returned to see us and told us that she didn’t receive surgery and suffered tremendously in a hospital bed (no pain meds are available in this country stronger than Tylenol) for several days before leaving.  Now a month later, she still has constant pain and an inflamed gall bladder on ultrasound and we will send her to CEML for surgery.


A thirty-year-old woman has had four wounds on her legs producing pus daily for four years.  Both of her femurs and tibias are infected and she needs surgical debridement under anesthesia for healing to begin.  She will also go to CEML for surgery.  Four years!


We were able to witness the lunar eclipse (“blood moon”) in all its glory a few nights ago.  There were no clouds and the view was spectacular.  I never imagined that the color would be so much like blood – its name is so appropriate.  Over several hours, the shadow of the earth moved over the moon, creating a deep red shadow, from bottom to top, as we watched from Lubango during a “pizza night” with other missionaries.  What a unique celestial event!


We do have some fun.  I give a sucker to all kids we see in the clinic and if I have leftovers at the end of the day I give them to our neighbor kids.  Rarely is there a day when they are not greeting me at my house on my return from the clinic.  I’d like to think they just want to see me, but…  Several months ago I asked their parents to tell their kids not to ask for a sucker every day because they don’t understand that I can’t afford to daily give 5-6 kids a sucker.  They have never asked again!  Maybe 2-3 times a week I give them suckers and they yelp and dance and laugh every time.  I also enjoy leaving suckers for them unexpectedly in a fence on our property near the woods in the direction of their house.  I never see them find the suckers but every time I leave them they are gone.  Kids rarely see candy in this rural area…


“Peel it, cook it, boil it or don’t eat it.”  This is a very healthy rule in public health for travelers and is a very effective preventative measure for the common intestinal ailments encountered in the developing world.  I believe that every instruction left for us in our Father’s letters has been given with the same intent as this public health “rule”.  Unfortunately, His “rules” become religious dos and don’ts as we forget the heart behind His “laws”.  Jesus came to reveal the heart of the law-giver and communicate to us that we are wise to follow His ways whether we can or not immediately appreciate the reason for the rule.  Many travelers who know this public health rule compromise because the food “looks fine”.  We make the same mistake when we violate the Designer’s stipulations because the destructive nature of a violation isn’t apparent.  Trust in the heart of the rule-giver and experience (consequences) produce understanding and wisdom in both cases.  Jesus is our revelation of our Father and the author of the most beautiful book of letters ever written…


One of the most challenging aspects of my work in rural Cavango is identifying patients here who need surgery and advising them to travel to Lubango via MAF for the same (examples above).  Most refuse for lack of funds and many die in our hospital as a result.  I would like to ask if someone might be interested in creating a charitable fund (and raising the money) specifically for the patients that we send from here to CEML for surgery.  We send about 60 per year and the average cost for each is in the range of $600- $1000US (more would accept a transfer for surgery if the cost issue was eliminated).  Currently I use money donated from our supporters and it isn’t enough.  The fund would be only for these patients and I would be the “gate-keeper”.  No one would have access to these funds or receive surgery apart from my call and it would be used only for this purpose.  So many lives could be impacted and there would be very little in administrative expense (nothing would go to me or to other aspects of our work).  I don’t have the time to manage the fund but would be glad to be involved in setting it up and arranging payment, perhaps quarterly, to CEML (our surgical center in Lubango).  I believe there are many people and organizations in the US who would contribute to such a health care fund if we could establish that the purpose is only for health care and not connected to a “religious” purpose. Please contact me if interested.


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