Cuando Cubango, Serving, Upside Down…

 

I just returned from an exhausting two-week trip to the rural desert southeast and these trips always leave me soberly heart-broken.  The kids are hungry and have nothing to do but help in their dusty, dry fields.  It hadn’t rained all year and the rainy season is now ending.  The corn is fully mature in the center of the country but is yellowed, wilted and knee-high in Cuando Cubango.  We had several nights of storms during our time out there that the local folks hope were enough to avoid starvation (the plants seemed to me beyond recovery).  It was a sweaty 93-96oF inside our clinics and we saw 400+ people, but by noon every day many had already left when they realized they wouldn’t get a “ticket” for a consultation by the end of the day.

 

Some cases I remember… A woman with ocular onchocerciasis, a parasite whose larval form migrates to the eyes and causes thousands of cases of blindness each year in Sub-Saharan African villages located near rivers, where the transmitting fly thrives.  I see many in our clinics already blind from this illness, as in some of these rural villages almost everyone over the age of 50 is being led by hand by a child.  I can do nothing for those with complete blindness as their eyes are destroyed from within over years (frog and boiling water), but this woman could still see pretty well and the parasite is easily treated if killed before it causes permanent destruction inside the eye.  It was a joy to see one with this disease (early) who will not progress to complete blindness because of a simple and beautiful treatment (ivermectin).  A young man arrived with acute onset of severe leprosy, who will not worsen to the debilitating form of the disease because we were able to begin treatment within the first month of onset.

 

Arthritis is as prevalent here as anywhere and I gave more joint injections on this trip than on perhaps any other.  These corticosteroid (commonly known as “cortisone”) injections are life-giving for these folks who want to work in their fields so as not to be a burden on the community, but their hip/knee/shoulder pain limits all activity.  The injection often diminishes the pain for several months.  A young man and woman each had a destroyed kidney because of complete urinary obstruction from a kidney stone, living for years with pain that most people find intolerable for even a few days.  A woman arrived in Rivungo almost dead from Toxic Shock Syndrome and we were able to institute life-saving treatment and she was up and eating the next day.   In Nancova, a nurse worked with me and took copious notes and asked many questions.  Hunger to gain knowledge to help others is rare anywhere and it was beautiful to see.  He exclaimed on his arrival to the hospital on our second morning that he could hardly sleep all night as he was profoundly touched by what he had seen the previous day, with every patient listened to and prayed for and so many illnesses diagnosed and treated reasonably and accurately.  He said he would pray for all of his patients for the rest of his life, as he completely bought the idea I presented that only God gives life and it’s His joy to have those He dearly loves approach Him with their concerns…

 

A particular joy on this trip was the presence of our MAF pilot, Marijn, our MAF mechanic, Marcel, two missionaries with Overland Mission, Rachel and Tom, and an Angola pastor, Fernando, who all devoted themselves to praying with the patients, asking questions, listening, having many conversations about who Jesus is apart from religion, giving talks, and just hanging out with the local people as they waited, many of them all day, while Rachel and I saw patients.  From their conversations with almost every patient, they learned that the whole region is essentially ignorant of Jesus’ affection for them, yet so thirsty.  The harvest is ripe and so many in rural Angola haven’t heard the Good News of our Father’s Kingdom…  Who will we send?

 

We were invited to the provincial governor’s office on our return from Cuando Cubango and presented with a beautiful declaration of gratitude for all of our service in their province, and an invitation to work anytime and anywhere in their jurisdiction (about twice the size of Ohio).  One of the reasons for the governor’s gratitude was that I was called from across the province and asked if MAF could emergently transport a critically ill woman to a tertiary care hospital.  Our MAF pilot, Marijn, and our MAF mechanic, Marcel, accepted without hesitation and transported the woman to the capital, where she survived surgery. We found out later that she was a relative of the governor…

 

Culture…  I rarely meet a man in our clinic with one wife.  I rarely meet a woman who is not one of several wives.  They all live in a “family unit” consisting of a hut for each woman and her kids in which to sleep.  I meet many married women who won’t look me in the eye, who won’t speak for themselves, who are treated as a commodity of little value and who are obviously abused, by any reasonable definition. The media banter of the western world doesn’t seem to appreciate that this is the historic norm across cultures and that, because of Jesus’ influence on our western culture, women are valued far more than in the many godless cultures around the world.  The Judeo-Christian admonishment for one man to be married to one woman is a radical valuing of women in a world where they have normally been treated as nothing more than physical objects and powerless slaves.  In the US, they are still hideously objectified by both men and women rather than honored as lovingly and purposefully created persons, made in the Creator’s own image, every one.  One of Jesus’ most radical counter-cultural perspectives (He had so many) was the radical way that He valued and honored women in all of His recorded interactions.

 

The objectification and degradation of the physically less-powerful has been a human norm that continues everywhere today, to varying degrees, but far more so outside of cultures with a Christian ethic foundation.  Consider the major cultures with little or no Jesus influence: Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Nones, Chinese religions, Primal indigenous, Animistic, etc. and how poorly treated are the women, the socio-economically depressed, the disabled, the conquered, the racially diverse and the culturally different…  A little research into historical and cultural norms/differences reveals that none of the above religions value all people, especially women, as Jesus does.

 

Physical threat is used today by the stronger sex in Angola and it is ugly. The role of men in the 30+ years of civil war was to fight to protect their family and community, and in the past 15 years the country has been without war and the men lord their physical prowess over women and demand everything from them, giving/doing little. The women prepare all meals, raise the children and cultivate the fields, while the men make all family and community decisions.

 

The godless, polygamous, men of the rural Angolan culture would flock to a men’s leadership conference, but they laugh at me when I speak of serving their wives, family and community…  I read recently that “leader” appears 6x in the bible, and “servant” 900x, and only within Jesus’ Kingdom would one ever hear such a perspective on priority.  Those in the American church often don’t appreciate the radical beauty of the Kingdom influence on their own culture re women, servant leadership, personhood equality, etc.

 

Further, the godless influence of the greed/comfort/leisure/pleasure-driven west (in all of our 2019 “sophistication,” we’ve yet to realize that the desires of our flesh will never be satisfied), is arriving in Angola, through wealth evangelism in advertising, through the marriage of the ubiquitous pornography industry and cheap technology, through media propaganda and its ability to make anything attractive and desirable….  It seems to me that, overall, the objectification of human beings is increasing rather than diminishing, radically promoted through the influential and ever-popular anti-god celebrity culture, music, news, and the sports and video industries, as Jesus’ influence is further disregarded as irrelevant and antiquated. The purpose of every person, plant, animal, machine, product, etc. is to make life better for you.  The church has largely bought into the same health and wealth, self-improvement emphasis, implying that God exists for our happiness!  Perhaps this is why in 2019 more than three million, ignored-and-forgotten-kids will die from simply not having enough to eat (one every ten seconds) and most churches have no one willing to go to those with the greatest needs, to get the food where it is most needed.  Organizational corruption and abuse is the result of a church unwilling to goThere would be no need for “World Vision” if the church sent thousands of servants into the slums, deserts and backwoods of the world, where these children live…

 

I spoke to a church group this past Sunday morning in Licua on our recent trip about Jesus’ statement that the greatest in His kingdom are those who most serve.  To serve another is to abandon self-interest for another’s benefit, which is the essence of the Kingdom of God, demonstrated and modeled firstly by Jesus when, for our benefit, He abandoned all of His kingdom glory and trappings and left His Father to come to earth.  The cultural leaders in this church all sat in the front of the church (including the visiting doctor) and I challenged them that they had completely missed Jesus’ kingdom emphasis.  I told them that the women who had prepared me dinner over an open fire under a tree the night before were those worthy of honor in the Kingdom of God, not the one who was served the dinner.  The police leader, the pastor and the administrator (political village chief) in every community receive the most honor and are served by those in the community.  I challenged this little church that they were in for a great surprise when they cross into eternity and find the church cleaners and meal-preparers honored and served by those who had received honor in this world.  In Jesus’ kingdom (the only Kingdom that will matter to any of us in a few years), those who serve are honored and those served receive no honor.

 

I challenged every man in the crowd to… observe his wife… and learn… how to be a servant, concerned with the benefit of others over themselves.  You could have heard a pin hit the hardened, dusty dirt floor.  I rejected the honor they had bestowed on me and suggested that the men in the community do the same in order to praise those worthy of honor in Jesus’ kingdom – the servants among them – their wives.

 

The emphasis on the development of leaders in our churches today completely misses Jesus’ Kingdom priority.  The world clamors for leadership and the strengthening of leadership gifts/skills and the church has sadly followed suit.  There are church leadership conferences everywhere, yet I’ve never seen a servant conference!  We must, however, teach what Jesus taught, and emphasize what He emphasizes, which is to abandon our desire to be served and our desire to “succeed” and “lead” in this world… in order to wash feet, to go and serve where others won’t go and to serve doing what others won’t do, in order to promote the well being of anyone and everyone, especially those not being served, those who don’t notice and those who might take advantage of us or even harm us (our enemies).  We make disciples not by study and teaching (another place we have missed Jesus’ emphasis) but by living as servants and encouraging others to do the same, using words only when necessary. 

 

A prevalent church teaching is that if we serve others, we will improve our well being/self esteem and gain kingdom fruit (peace, joy, etc).  No!  If we serve others, they will benefit.  This Kingdom message is heard virtually nowhere and is why the church looks no differently than the world.  What we are given is to be distributed to another, for their benefit!  What we receive from God is not a blessing to be enjoyed but a tool to be used for serving and edifying another!  Preoccupation with self is as great in the “churched” as it is in the world and this wasn’t Jesus’ emphasis when He encouraged us to pick up our bloody cross…

 

It is said that the early church turned the world upside down.  I wonder if the world would be turned upside down again if half of all Jesus-followers quit their job, sold their home, and moved to a place in the world with great need in order to love the least and to serve another for their benefit… while the other half sent half their salaries/savings/retirement to those on the field to serve those serving…

 

Jesus emphasized dying to self not in order that we might be saved, happy, peaceful or joyful, but that others might benefit… be set free, know love, have peace/joy/health…

 

This Angolan culture and so many others could sure use some dead teachers, handymen, mechanics, builders, doctors, engineers, IT people, administrators, public health workers, lovers of people…

 

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