What does one do when living many hours from a city and a hardware, auto and grocery store and has little plumbing, carpentry, mechanical and electrical skill/knowledge? We depend much on Google for counsel on repairs when the right tools and parts are lacking and on (dear and selfless) friends in the city to send needed items on the weekly MAF flight (our MAF pilots are our principal counselors on about everything)! Our first weeks back in Cavango required repairing (a plug) and replacing a flat tire, stopping several, recurrent leaks in our home’s plumbing system, installing a new, energy-efficient water pump, changing the oil in our generator, plugging two ambulance flat tires, repairing a 110/220 energy converter, overseeing the work at our construction site, replacing several solar LED lights in our clinic that were singed by a lightning strike, repairing broken clinic door knobs, repairing leaks in the clinic plumbing and overseeing the repair of the cement cistern at the spring 2km away from which we, the village and the clinic get our water, running out of water at our house (still working on the solution to this one while radically conserving), fixing a leaking radiator hose and a broken fan belt on one of our cars and repairing electrical connectors in the same car that suddenly wouldn’t start, traveling a full day to Huambo to purchase construction supplies, meds and another tire for our car (and some fried chicken on the street), and seeing a few patients…
An old Saxon legend that greatly encouraged me this week: “Do it immediately, do it with prayer, do it reliantly, casting all care. Do it with reverence, tracing His hand who placed it before thee with earnest command. Stayed on omnipotence, safe ‘neath His wing, leave all resultings, do the next thing.”
Sometimes a testimony of God’s intervention has a special impact on a community, a region, a work. I think of the blind man healed by Jesus. “I don’t know what happened but all I know is that I was blind and now I see.” We have many sad stories in Cavango of people who arrive too late in their illness for intervention, but we have pages and pages of names in our daily log of people who arrive ill and recover. It’s tempting to take credit for successful outcomes but this, then, would necessitate taking “credit” for every bad outcome in a profession with 100% mortality. We know that Jesus is present any time “two or three are gathered in His name,” which is every patient encounter in Cavango, and that He hears our every request, but we can’t predict the outcome of a touch by the sovereign Wind of God or how He will choose to respond. So each and every one we serve, we encourage, we embrace, and we love, while asking our Father to intervene and resolve their pain and disability. Then we trust… our Father’s eternally wise judgment as to whether He chooses to heal, extend this earthly life and/or minimize our earthly suffering… or not. In Hebrews 11, we read that, throughout history, He rescued and healed many, while many also suffered tremendously while remaining faithful to Him, all to know their reward of life eternal with Him. During this earthly life, “He gives and takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Then there is Moises. I wrote briefly last time about this 70 y/o man who was bedridden for six years and became blind during that time. He remained faithful to God, sought help in many places and found none. I can’t imagine what he went through… Then he came to our clinic and we began treatment for his paralysis and sent him five hours to our colleague Steve Collins for cataract surgery. He can now see after receiving surgery on one of his two blind eyes (he will have the other operated in March). His medical condition, which had removed all strength in his four limbs (two months ago he couldn’t feed or bathe himself) is resolving wonderfully and he is now walking and eating without assistance. He tells everyone his story (many times/day) and walks up to us every morning at the hospital, full of gratitude and praise to God for his recovery of sight and return of strength. He came to our small church service on Sunday and stood up and told his whole story in 15 minutes, reminding me of the blind man healed by Jesus. He said over and over that he was in bed for six years and now he walks; he was blind and he now sees.
One of my dear friends, Geraldo, translated Moises’ words into Portuguese for me and tears were running down his cheeks as he translated the message, laughing throughout, as Moises has a very funny and animated way of telling his story. His enthusiasm has been contagious and so many people have been impacted by his remarkable story and enthusiastic gratitude. As Jesus asked most of the people He healed to keep quiet, we don’t boast about our successes in the hospital, but we need testimonies like that of Moises to increase trust in the people of this region that our work has value and that early consultation for illness is wise. It’s our Father’s work, and it’s a joy to play a small role in His interventions, but we know that physical healings are quite temporary and that there are always both outcomes pleasant and unpleasant.
As Moises went on and on today about how grateful he was re his healing, immediately behind him sat a slumped and cachectic, 64 y/o man, who we told yesterday had a month or two to live because of incurable cancer. He’s endured the painful draining of his abdomen twice and continues to worsen. The day before we lost a 7 y/o to malaria after she tarried on the brink for three days and we have a 60 y/o man in the hospital from our village who needs to be fed, bathed and helped with everything because he has progressed to quadriparesis over just two months because of a disc herniation in his neck, which has not responded to our care. Another man is essentially paralyzed and is not improving. Our work is gratifying and humbling, pleasant and unpleasant, and filling and draining, but all the results of our service are in the hands of our Father. Everyone Jesus healed died. Lazarus was resurrected by Jesus and died a few years later. All of us have numbered days varying, in light of eternity, only by a moment.
One morning this week I spoke to our pre-clinic gathering of families and patients and, to open our discussion, I asked them for questions or concerns they had about health. Albino (his name), a strong, gentle, reserved, articulate 65 y/o man, who has been with us in our hospital for about a week, with hands twice as thick as mine, quietly spoke up and said that he fought in the war for ten years and survived being shot in an eye and in the abdomen and when he left the army and returned home, his wife had abandoned his family and married another. His adult daughter came to our hospital when I wasn’t here last year and delivered dead twins and then died the next day. He has a severely mentally disabled and high energy adult son, who was born well (likely suffered the consequence of cerebral malaria or meningitis as a child), that he brought to us several months ago after he stabbed himself in the chest and then tried to cut off his penis and when this man tried to stop him, his very strong 30+ year old son tried to kill him. We put the son back together at our clinic and he miraculously survived, but wanders aimlessly day and night in the “jungle” and rarely sees his dad. I remember marveling at this man and the care he demonstrated when he brought in his blood-covered, non-communicative, agitated and uncontrollable son. He also lost several children to malaria and about two weeks ago he suffered a stroke that has left him without strength in his right arm and leg and he can no longer contribute to the work in His fields. He said he has worked hard all his life and treated people well, but he now feels alone and depressed, especially at being so dependent on others when he has always been a leader and provider for his family and community.
He simply asked “Why?” Why did all these things happen to him and why do so many people suffer so severely in this life. His sincere question is what makes our daily gatherings so special. Our Father had prepared me for this question earlier the same morning and I shared about Jesus’ response to the events surrounding Lazarus’ death, Jesus’ interactions with Lazarus’ sisters about eternal life and that, when Jesus was confronted with the circumstances surrounding Lazarus’ death and the profound grief experienced by His dear friends, Mary and Martha, He wept. I shared that we don’t know all of the answers about the “whys” of human pain and injustice but, in that single, wordless moment Jesus revealed His heart re our earthly suffering.
And what we do know about our Father and suffering… We know that Jesus suffered greatly and that He intimately knows the pain of physical suffering, loneliness, rejection and injustice. We know that He hurts when we hurt. And we know that He said, “Do not be troubled,” re our inevitable suffering in this life, that His kingdom is “not of this world” and that He is preparing a beautiful place for those who are His, to be realized after our earthly death. Our sober discussion revolved around the reality of pain and suffering, the reality of Jesus’ resurrection, His unseen presence all around us, and the reality of His promises about eternal life with Him. The sober message was well-received, as these folks live lives filled with suffering and loss. In the US culture, for example, it’s a tragedy to lose a child, while everyone here has lost at least one child to death and many, like this man, have lost several dearly loved children. I shared that each of us must decide, in light of reality, whether we will follow Jesus. Jesus’ disciples faced the same decision after His death and resurrection, with all of the suffering and injustice that surrounded them, and we know the stories…
This morning at our pre-clinic gathering, which has been better these days because our new enthusiastic and solid Angolan pastor of 38 years joins us daily to give an excellent, brief message about the Kingdom of God and he’s been sharing stories from the bible about wisdom (citing Moses, Joseph and Daniel) and how God has set this clinic here to serve the people of this region, but it requires wisdom on the part of each person to respond to our Father’s gift. It’s great that this message is given by an Angolan and a respected pastor. I followed and asked the people why the people are not flocking to the clinic in more numbers when illness is all around and the world’s knowledge has arrived in remote Cavango in the form of a doctor and medicines. I always emphasize that I am no one special, but that I have knowledge, like a mechanic has for motorbikes/cars, a farmer has for crops and a builder has for construction.
I spoke of the clinic as a tool for health comparable to the hoe-type tool they use in their fields to plow and plant, called “enxada”. They can ignore the benefit of tools (and use their hands) and they can ignore the benefit of the clinic, but in both instances they would be rejecting readily available help that can empower them in their labor and health, respectively. An animated discussion followed about the lack of finances and transportation that keeps the rural poor from taking advantage of what is here. So many present had already improved because of the treatment received at the clinic and everyone vowed to take the message back to their friends and family in their villages (many walked for days to get here) and encourage them to take advantage of the clinic’s services. One woman (her mom has responded beautifully to heart failure treatment) spoke of the paucity of modern medicine available in the major city from which she drove in a car for almost a full day. Another (his dad arrived in a coma from TB meningitis and is walking, eating and talking normally) said he would go to the radio stations in the cities to see about raising awareness for this remote clinic through radio testimonies. I share this because I wish people in the US could hear this discussion and see the incredibly sad state of this part of the world combined with the crazy-beauty of the people trapped in such a region. Those contributing to this work, be encouraged! Together we are infiltrating these areas of captivity and helplessness behind enemy lines…