I’m sitting on our front porch at mid-day, waiting for blank copies of hospital order forms to fall off our copier. There are five neighbor kids giggling and playing in our yard, after having found a few suckers I hid in our yard. These neighbor kids look for the hidden suckers almost daily and hiding them once or twice weekly has become one of my fondest pleasures.
I’m looking out over a beautiful river valley, and reflecting on the morning… On my morning run into the mist over the valley, three gorgeous endangered Southern ground hornbills twice flew in front of me. They visit our area briefly about twice/year and are huge, beautiful birds. I then arrived at the clinic and prepared three patients for transfer to CEML, our parent hospital in Lubango (click CEML above), where they will receive likely curative surgery. What a joy to have such colleagues to assist with surgical illnesses! Our two MAF pilots (click MAF above), Marijn and Brent, brought two planes to handle the transport for these dear people.
I then sat in a “circle” with about 50 adults (a different group every morning) outside our clinic and talked about how we can improve our physical and spiritual health. We talked about how Jesus, after hearing of the death of his cousin, John the Baptist, went into the hills to be alone with His Father. Several people shared about deaths of loved ones and other painful circumstances/losses they have faced. One man cried as he reflected over the loss of his dear mother the previous week. We spoke of our neediness and how difficult life is and what a beautiful example Jesus gave us in removing Himself to connect with His Father and to receive His affection and comfort. Several shared how they needed reminded of our Father’s heart for us and His unceasing desire to join us in what we are experiencing, both pleasant and unpleasant. It was a beautiful, humbling and sober discussion with much heartfelt interaction. Every morning is a different message with a different group of inpatients, outpatients, and their families, from 20-200 adults. What an incredible privilege to participate in such gatherings over the years with, literally, thousands of beautiful, barefoot, illiterate, dressed-in-rags, extremely bright and receptive people, who know nothing of Jesus, and the Good News of His enough-to-die-for affection for them.
Today I then shared about how our hospital works and how each and every one of us are necessary for its successful and continued operation. The staff works and gets paid (little) from the (little) money paid for consultations by each and every patient. The excellent generic, Indian meds we use are sold at cost for money which is then used to again buy meds for other patients. These are purchased at a pharmacy warehouse in Lubango, usually by our MAF staff, and flown out to us when they come for a transport. I explained that without the “contribution” of each and every person, the hospital would close. I reminded them that everyone plays a role in each other’s physical health improvement, from nurses to patients to cleaners to grass-cutters (with sickles), to families caring for patient’s daily needs, to construction workers, etc. I emphasized that there are no roles without significance and each of us have unlimited opportunities to serve one another, which Jesus indicated is a key to life in His Kingdom. This opened up much interaction about how grateful so many of them were for the work of this simple hospital and that there is nothing like it anywhere (in their world). They conversed with each other about how they must all do their part in keeping the clinic open because it benefitted so many people. It was beautiful to hear and I wish that each person and family who contributes to this work could have heard their words. One man shared how he traveled over 200km on motorbike with his wife to get help and she was better than she has been in years. He tearfully shared his gratitude which was emphatically echoed by several others.
This discussion is significant because health care is very expensive for these folks. A consultation costs about $2, which is a full day’s wage for the few people who can find work. Paying in cash is further difficult because they live in a largely cashless culture, trading goods when necessary and living off the land. Meds for most patients average about the same cost, so the value of an uncomplicated doctor’s visit is a minimum of two days wage! Because of this cost, many ask for credit, insisting, with good intention, that they will pay later but, of course. few do. This is why we must have this discussion regularly with patients, because we want the hospital to remain open and self-sustaining, able to run successfully without outside help. Your contributions are going toward infrastructure items that will serve the patients for years, in water, bricks and mortar, energy, equipment, instruments, etc.
Immediately after the gathering, a frantic and weeping mom brought me her seizing five-year-old child and said he had been seizing nonstop for several hours. After administering a simple, appropriate medication and praying, his seizures stopped and he was resting and beginning his treatment for cerebral malaria.
Yesterday I spoke about dental issues and they described to me how a few of them brush their teeth with the frayed roots of a particular tree. Almost no one does anything with their teeth as to cleaning/brushing. They never thought about using soap (toothpaste is out of the question), but few people have soap of any kind. We spoke about how cavities were routes for infection and the infection can be treated without pulling the tooth. When these folks suffer from tooth pain, the only option they consider is to remove the tooth. Most adults have few teeth! It was news to them that dentists actually can repair teeth with cavities. No one here has ever seen a dentist as even the cities with a million people might have a few dentists. They had never been taught about infections and cavities, but could appreciate that cleaning teeth helped prevent tooth pain/loss. Because of 30+ years of no education during the war, so much basic, basic health education is needed here. Anyone with a high school education could benefit so many people here by sharing re health what we consider common knowledge in North America…
We have a visiting medical student from Ohio with us for a couple weeks and Stephen is a delight as he uses his last month before graduation to learn “bush medicine” in Angola. He is in his mid-thirties and he decided to enter medical school (later than most) to work for the purpose of helping others live better lives instead of working hard for a better life for himself, as he had done for years, quite successfully. We cross paths with such diverse and beautiful people in this work!
We had the pleasure of hosting our dear friends, Brett and Sarah Latta for the past two weeks. They pitched in and helped in various ways (Brett repaired our simple, solar lighting in our inpatient ward), were great listeners and tolerated, as do most people who know us well, the “raw” and the real about us and our work.
We had four people in the last month with various medical conditions arrive unable to walk and all are now walking, two with a walker and two independently. One man arrived three months ago having lost all use of his arms and legs gradually over a month, secondary to a herniated disc in his neck. We could only use strong anti-inflammatories and pray, as the remarkable and common surgery to repair this problem in the rest of the world is not available here. He greeted me (photo) on my arrival today grinning ear-to-ear and pushing the wheelchair on which he had been dependent for over two months. He has full use of his arms, hands, legs and feet. Crazy Wind.
A pain-free, thirty-three-year-old woman greeted me today with an animated hug and huge smile. She had walked for over two days to arrive for a consultation and we discovered via ultrasound that she had a kidney stone, which passed after less than 12hr of treatment. She also had malaria. I then saw nearly thirty inpatients, almost all remarkably improved, which isn’t the case every day.
We have a dear family (Marcel and Kelly Boers) arriving today with the MAF plane visiting us for a week and looking to help us with some projects around our house and hospital that we never have time for. Marcel is the MAF mechanic in Lubango and responsible for my many safe journeys in their small planes. Kelly teaches at the mission English school in Lubango, where about 40 Angolan kids get an excellent, college-prep education, with a combination of English and Portuguese. They have two little boys who will add some serious spice to our daily life.
We work with a remarkable team of 80-100 people/families who regularly contribute their hard-earned money to support our work here so that we all (together) can make a transforming difference in the lives of these beautiful people.
Our four adult kids have tolerated so much travel and transition and still put up with distance and difficult communication in their family that other 20-somethings don’t experience in their “normal”, American upbringing.
My wife, Betsy has graciously devoted herself to a life she never signed up for and didn’t see coming…
We serve with a beautiful, like-minded home church in Ohio called VCDC (click “Home Church” above) which has unwaveringly supported our cross-cultural work among some of the world’s most forgotten for almost fifteen years…
Jesus asks nothing of His followers that He hasn’t previously done. He said that in His Kingdom there is reward for loss, especially for those who abandon much to serve Him and those He loves.
This life is not easy. It’s full of daily challenges, heartaches and anxieties, and keeps us distant from those who mean so much to us, but I’m sitting here today and gratefully acknowledging before my Father that my life could hardly be richer or fuller, and that even some of Jesus’ most overlooked words could not be more true…