Theology, Perceptions, Guru, Weeping…


Theology 101…  On my trip to the southeast last month, at the end of a long day in Mavinga which, you may recall, began with a 5a reevaluation of a woman with obstructed labor, and after being repeatedly dogged well into the evening to see “one more”, I messaged Betsy and told her that life had proven to me once again that I am not Jesus and never will be!  My fatigue, irritability, lack of concern for the next “last one”, and my profound overall desire to quit the day, were simply not Jesus-like.  After all these years, I can still be stretched to an ugly place.  There are all kinds of theology out there which indicate that we become more like Jesus with time.  Perhaps, if one is considered closer to Angola after a hearty swim off the coast of Brazil… He’s Jesus and I’m not.  He graciously leads and encourages me, but, so often for Him, it must be like training the hippos in our river to sit and roll over…  I’m glad that it is not necessary to have it all together to journey with my King, to serve others, and to worship One far more worthy of honor and praise than I am!  I need His grace and loving kindness as much today as I did 30+ years ago when I first recognized my severe bent toward selfishness and His profound grace for the screwed up…


Uniforms…  When we travel and face long lines of people desiring consultations, men in uniform always step to the front and seek favor, expecting to be served immediately. In Mavinga (same day as above), we had 13 uniformed military arrive at 5p, expecting to be served.  I announced to the crowd and to them that, outside the clinic, we have different positions and privileges, but inside the clinic, we are all equal and it’s “first come, first served”.  We seek to honor the “least” in all we do and the less-privileged always appreciate our approach.  We saw the uniforms the next day.


Humbling profession…  At Cavango, people believe that an ultrasound scan can “see” everything (no TV, computers, etc here, so the lit screen itself is pretty impressive) and people sometimes arrive wanting an ultrasound exam, which they believe will accurately reveal the cause for their illness.  We have developed a policy that there is no charge if I choose to do an ultrasound exam but, if they “order” an ultrasound on arrival, they must pay for it (which then augments our nurses’ nominal salaries).  Every now and then, the patient’s desire for an ultrasound pays off for them and humbles me.  This week, for example, we had a young man arrive complaining of a severe headache for a month.  I would not have done an ultrasound for this complaint (ultrasound is primarily helpful for examining soft-tissue), but because he paid for an ultrasound at registration, I did a quick scan of his major organs, and found fluid around his heart and in his chest cavity, indicating a probable diagnosis of disseminated tuberculosis with meningeal involvement likely causing his headache! It was a diagnosis I would not have made without the ultrasound (which I wouldn’t have done) and he benefitted from the exam, likely saving his life…


Tithing…  There is debate whether the old Jewish tithing minimum (10%) is for the church or whether we, Jesus-followers, will simply give all of our lives and fruit of our labor to the work of our Father, out of gratitude for His heart for us and His spirit within us motivating us to give every breath, every effort, and every fruit for His kingdom.  But it is a more difficult concept to communicate when the church knows no math.  The uneducated have great difficulty with the concept of percentages and I gave up long ago trying to teach this idea to my nurses, who are quite intelligent, but with a less-than-optimal ninth grade education.  This past Sunday morning in our small church service, the speaker was discussing the necessity of the church’s tithes (here usually corn) this month to store food for the new pastor, who is to arrive in December.  He emphasized that we are to give at least a tenth of the fruits of our labor, declaring, “If we harvest 50kg of corn, we must bring 10kg to the church service…”


Joy…  Perceptions of what we do as missionaries sometimes are not based in reality.  It has been expressed to me that we must find joy in what we do.  Smile.  We have certainly chosen our work and place of residence in response to how we perceive our Father might be directing us, and there is always joy in our closeness with Him, but…  The case below was the second of the day in which large amounts of pus sprayed over my clothes and I’m not a surgeon (for a reason).  Each time I was causing indescribable pain by cutting into very sensitive tissue (local anesthetic helps little, though we always use it liberally) and neither recipient of my “care” expressed any appreciation for their treatment, focused more on the pain I caused than the possible benefit, which will be less than a cure because each waited so long to come to us.  We have cases like this almost daily.  Joy?


It’s sweaty hot most days and there is no electricity for fans or AC.  I get peed on, pooped on or vomited on, our buildings stink as no one here bathes or showers; the untamed flies, gnats and wasps are constantly targeting our ears and eyes, and the undisciplined kids scream at the sight of me (even after giving them a sucker) simply because my appearance is so strange (the big, ugly, white guy).  There are far too many patients most days and no other doctors within a day’s travel for most people so, after walking or riding on a motorbike in the predawn hours to get here, they wait hours for their hurried, ten-minute consultation.  Most arrive exhausted and ill before 7a and I don’t usually finish with inpatients until about 10a, so the shortest daily wait time is about three hours.  Monday, for example, because of a few complicated patients requiring more time, I began seeing our 30 new patients at 2p.  There is little expressed gratitude, usually communicated nonchalantly and stoically in a manner that doesn’t easily yield emotional encouragement for the care-giver.  Joy?


No one here sees what we do as noble, as they have no concept of where we have come from or the challenges we face in living and working in an impoverished, cross-cultural environment, yet one which is completely familiar to them.  Anyone who has been in any work force for many years realizes that all work loses its “luster” over time, and ours is no different. Many in authority here view us only with suspicion and often directly question our motives and look for ways to derail our work.  Joy?


There is conflict and misunderstanding at every turn, more so here than in the US because of the cross-cultural differences in perspective, the contrary ways of doing things, and communication is difficult when always done through a translator from a language foreign to me (Portuguese) to one of our local tribal languages…


It takes effort to hear the positive whispers, to block out the negative shouts and to keep our vision in front of us. These posts help me remember our vision, and why we do what we do, at least a couple times/month.  As anywhere, most communication about the Kingdom is received with a yawn or dismissed (wide vs narrow path).


Is there joy?  Yes, mixed with a lot of headache and heartache and if I was in this for personal joy, I would have quit a long time ago.  I love what we do and why we are doing it, but I don’t experience much personal joy in the tasks that make up our work.  Our pursuit is seeing joy in the broken and hurting, not realizing it in ourselves… 


Pursuing tasks, careers, or relationships because they give us joy is contrary to what Jesus encouraged.  He encouraged these pursuits, but with completely different motives.  In one of His longest recorded messages, He said it was a worthy pursuit, for example, to seek out those battling sorrow, injustice and suffering and mourn with them.  He invited us to humbly acknowledge our inadequacy, abandon our “comfort zone”,  and go to serve those with difficult and painful lives.   If we serve mercifully and compassionately without receiving thanks and even serve those who want to harm us, we would know life as He does.  If we embrace conflict for another’s peace, we would be doing what our Father does every day. If we are misunderstood and maligned because of our association with Him, we would know we are His.  And if we sacrifice our wants and even our needs for the well-being of others, we would “see” Him more clearly (Mt 5).  Few of Jesus’ messages were more counterintuitive or radical, and we each choose whether to believe Him or chase after what we think will bring us joy…


Sometimes our Father gives me a glimpse of His perspective.  We were recently visited by a 25-year-old woman with an upper arm hot, firm and about 50% larger than normal.  She also had the same in her thigh.  Ultrasound revealed deep abscesses in both places, which needed incised and drained.  Women have told me that childbirth is not more painful than this procedure.  We anesthetized as best we could and incised both, causing indescribable pain, and put in drains so the abscesses could continue to drain.   We explained to her and her family that the drains had to remain for three days.  Large amounts of pus drained over 24hr and she began improving, but both drains “fell out” and the procedure had to be repeated.  Again, much pus was removed and drains were placed, but she removed both during the night because she thought the drains were causing pain.  We explained again that the drains had to remain for her to overcome this infection, but she refused further treatment and decided she would go instead to the traditional medicine guru in her village, who had visited her mother and told her that he would heal her.  We reiterated to her and her mother that her infection was serious and that she would likely lose both limbs and possibly her life if she abandoned our treatment and received the “natural” treatment. We offered to pay for transport to our hospital in Lubango to have the procedure done under anesthesia.  We explained further that 30 years of experience eliminated guesswork, and what we were telling her was true.  She and her mother didn’t believe us and left the hospital. We loaded her with antibiotics for home, which she accepted, and I hope she returns when she worsens so that her life might be spared.


As we did with his woman, our Father/Designer has communicated with us what is true, in letters written to us through men, re how to approach this life and its challenges – to walk in close relationship with Him and follow His guidelines.  Like this woman, we reject His wise, knowing, and experienced counsel at our peril.  Sometimes when we reject His counsel we suffer little, while sometimes the consequences for us or for another are severe but, like with this woman, the decisions are oursThere is no greater honor bestowed on us by our Father than granting to us the freedom to follow Him or reject Him. He could force/coerce us to follow Him, but this would be outside of the love with which He honors us in granting us the freedom to follow or reject Him and His proven ways.  We let this woman go without dishonoring argument or criticism, after communicating that much evidence supported our recommendation.   The Kingdom of God operates through a very honoring invitation to “life” that our Father offers to every person He creates, validated by so much evidence of His goodness – the profound and detailed beauty of His creation, His revelation of Himself to us through Jesus, and a long recorded history depicting the temporal and eternal benefits of embracing His ways.  When Job questioned God’s ways, God simply asked Job if He had the authority to question Him, asking him, for example, if he had the ability to create and manage the world?  God’s response to Job in chapter 40 is one of the most profound passages ever written.


The arrogance of mankind today is remarkable.  The incredible complexity of this world, both as you look inward microscopically and outward astronomically, and our inability to understand and manage the same, is revealed more every passing year, and yet we reject His authority and choose to live our own way, independent of Him. We can’t stop destructive forest fires, turn away hurricanes, or recognize a murderer before he kills, let alone eliminate the evil and disease that destroy us.  We revel in our shiny computers and airplanes, yet we haven’t come close to creating anything close to a functional single cell, let alone something akin to the miracle of the human body/mind.  We have developed such profound imaginations and so dance with fantasy that we create expectations for life not based in reality that steal our ability to marvel at, and be grateful for, our stained and flawed, yet stupendous, natural world.  We lose appreciation for reality and we leave no room for God in our ever-busy lives, even as we demand that He reveal Himself to us so that we would believe Him.


People plead for God to come and appear to them, so they can believe.  He did!  He came in the form of a man who did miracles that no one has ever done (recorded, preserved and passed on to us with more accuracy than any ancient literature), and went where no man has gone when He came back to life after being killed by men (in the name of God).  They didn’t believe God then and wouldn’t believe Him now.  Jesus indicated that if mindful consideration of history and God’s revelation of Himself to us in His letters didn’t persuade us to choose to trust Him with our lives, we wouldn’t change our mind even if a dead person appeared to us (Lk 16).


We cry out for more from Him.  In all of our 2018 “sophistication” and “intelligence” we’ve lost our ability to wonder, as we sit in front of a 100-year-old oak tree that grew from an acorn and has withstood the elements without shelter or clothing.  As I sit here and write, I hear the screeching of 11 adorable, ever-hungry kittens that were each created with no conscious planning from single cells from three wild mothers joining the same from wild fathers, animals which we would describe as having limited intelligence.  They are being cared for beautifully and are growing nicely without parenting manuals. And we still cry for God to reveal Himself to us.  We credit to chance the mark of His design, the similarities that run throughout His beyond-marvelous creation, and call it evolution.  He has presented more than sufficient evidence of His character, wisdom and power all around us, if we would choose to see it.  Like this woman, who could research and find out that what we say is true, based on so much evidence (even interacting with the other inpatients to see their improvement), but who would rather choose to believe what feels better, what she can understand, or what a man tells her.  Who we listen to can be a matter of life and death as we are surrounded by so many smiling faces proclaiming how to live.  She would rather, so arrogantly and foolishly, follow her own way instead of what a little honest research and humility would reveal.  She will live, or die, with her choice, as will we.


I’ve heard people say, for example, that it is difficult to believe in a god who allows babies to be born with birth defects.  Yet overlooked is the fact that 97 of 100 births in the US have no birth defect.  I do virtually nothing right 97/100 times, yet from a single cell, over nine short months, with no human management, we develop into a crazy organized, multisystem walking, independent being with complexity beyond our ability to imagine, let alone create.  We are beyond arrogant in criticizing God and His creation, while not appreciating the profound complexity and beauty He has placed all around us.  I think many Americans would find something to criticize in a perfect garden of Eden.  As with this woman, who we believe is a choice. We have been honored to be given this choice and honored still by our Father’s persistent and gentle, knocking invitation, even as He patiently and lovingly waits for us to come to Him (Lk 15).


In my interaction with this woman, I experienced a small taste of our Father’s perspective, which was revealed the day that Jesus looked over such a mess in Jerusalem and wept, remarking that its people were like sheep who had chosen to live without a shepherd…



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