Since my early adult years, I have benefitted greatly by approaching someone, whose life and character I respect, and asking them to advise me at a particular point in my journey. Most of the time, the conversation is over a meal and I describe a particular challenge or decision that I’m facing and simply ask open-ended questions re how they would advise me. Those with a lifetime of bumps and bruises have so much to offer those nearer the journey outset, but those younger rarely ask. Over the years I’ve seen, from both sides of the conversation, that those with experience are quite willing to share, as they would love to see someone benefit from their errors and/or pain.
For this reason, I was so encouraged by our missionary colleagues, the Hoymes, Whitneys and Killoughs, with Overland Mission, when they invited Betsy and me to a weekend retreat for the purpose of dialoguing about developing healthy family relationships while serving in cross-cultural missions. They are three families with small children living in the harsh, desert southwest of the country and sharing the Good news of Jesus’ Kingdom with the nomadic Mucabal tribe, a people group which has historically been resistant to the Kingdom. Overland Mission has missionaries in many countries but only these three families in Angola. The vision of Overland is to go where others won’t and they are such kindred spirits in this regard. They are specifically trained for tough journeys and have a beautiful, rare fortitude and love for Jesus and for people. Sacrifice for them is not a four-letter word, like it is in most of the modern church, where theology, evangelism and discipleship focus on what God can/will do for us, rather than His call for us to actually abandon self-focus for the sake of others. These three beautiful families gathered to celebrate the completion of four hard years among the Mucabal.
One of our Father’s beautiful responses to their efforts happened a couple years ago when the Mucabal shared with the missionaries that they hadn’t had measurable rainfall in their region for years. These courageous and faith-full missionaries boldly told the villages they visited that they knew who made rain and that they would ask their Father to send rain, and He would. After about a year of travel into many of the harshest of places (where the Mucabal people scratch out a living), always declaring that rain would arrive… it rained… and rained, and rained. The elders in the tribe said they had never seen this much rain, ever. Many of the Mucabal people have opened their eyes/ears to Jesus, largely because of this rain and the response of the god of these missionaries to their request. The missionaries describe this people as very direct and honest and not people-pleasing. When they come to a meeting around an evening fire, they are interested. If not interested, they don’t come. Most don’t come, but many more are listening since the rain and some have surrendered to Jesus and chosen to follow Him.
We had a delightful weekend with these families, getting to know them a bit better and sharing some of what we have experienced in our years abroad along with some of our successes, failures, joys and struggles. We stayed at a beach resort in Angola and you must live here to know what that means, as it is nothing like “resorts” elsewhere, but it was a nice getaway, no one got sick, and the beach scenery and sounds were spectacular.
The day after the retreat, we left with MAF for the southeast part of Angola, where the people are coming off of a year without rain (it has already rained more in a couple weeks than all of last year). All of last year’s crops died and, for a people whose life is completely dependent on their crops (no jobs or income otherwise), it has been a year of tragedy, hardship, loss and death. Rachel Hoyme (Photo), an NP with Overland Mission, traveled with me the first of three weeks and it was so nice to share the patient load.
On our way to Mavinga, we stopped in Menongue, the capital of the southeastern province of Cuando Cubango. The east border of the province runs along Zambia on the Cuando River, while the western border of the province lies on the Cubango River, which is the same river that runs through our Cavango Mission, a mile from our house. We met with church leaders to begin the trip, as we always do, as they give us access to the cities of this province via their relationship with the provincial government, as their character and work are respected by the government. These leaders have beautiful hearts to see people in the difficult and remote places see and hear of the Kingdom of God and His affection for them. They believe in serving people who are hurting, like Jesus did, without ever compromising their desire to introduce people to their Father. They are a unique group of Jesus-lovers in that they are “both-and” when it comes to both proclaiming who Jesus is and serving those with needs (all human beings). I love them and their emphasis, coming from the American church that seems to always be “either-or” when it comes to preaching or serving, even though Jesus stated pretty clearly who would be greatest in His kingdom…
Over lunch, I asked them about the state of their province and their work. The church leader is a beautiful man named Jeremias, and he was more sober than I’ve ever seen him, since our initial meeting five years ago. He was in the throes of malaria and still spoke with delight about His King and His trust in Him. He said, however, that His church leaders desire to proclaim the eternal kingdom of God and the beauty of our King but, with tears in his eyes, he said… but the people are so hungry. He described some of the horrors of the drought and famine and said it is the worst he’s seen in his 59 years.. He said, in essence, that we (the church) must feed them, that we must respond to this opportunity to love these people by serving them. Seasons are always changing, and this is a season to serve and feed and there will come another season to preach. He expressed nicely the vision of our medical work, in that we go where there is need and pain because need and pain are opportunities to tangibly love (in Jesus’ Kingdom, love is a verb, not an emotion).
Desperation and pain are soil changers, creating fertility that simply wouldn’t exist otherwise. They break up fallow ground and prepare it for seed, but too often Jesus people equate seed with words and we do way too much talking and not enough listening and serving. Jeremias expressed trust in the Orchestrator of circumstance and a desire to participate with God in loving hurting and hungry people rather than preaching at them. I love the saying that we are always to be proclaiming the King and His Kingdom, but only sometimes with words. Jesus prioritized love and serving, but you would think by looking at our churches today that He prioritized oration, speaking, entertainment and teaching. When have you been to a church service where a radical servant was recognized and asked to share from His heart? This would be a Jesus church and there aren’t many of these. Our American churches are run by people with management skills, speaking/teaching skills, leadership abilities, charisma, entertainment skills, etc rather than by servants. According to Jesus, with His emphasis on sweaty hands washing dirty feet, the church leaders of today will not be the Kingdom leaders in eternity…
We were dropped off by MAF pilot Marijn, who has been making food flights for the past months to this region to try to make a dent in the famine. He was accompanied by a man from National Geographic who had just driven up to this part of Angola through Botswana, from South Africa. He’s been traveling this region of Africa since he was a kid, some 40 years ago, and he said he has never seen a drought this bad in Botswana, Namibia and Angola. He passed carcasses of elephants, Oryx, Kudu, Hippos and much more. He said every time he stopped and stepped outside of his car, he smelled death on the wind. He said the Oryx are so hardy and he has never seen one starve to death and on this trip he saw many Oryx carcasses.
I wonder what it takes for a story to make a headline with our US news organizations? How can it be that no one knows about this? Apparently we are distracted by “more important” news items and interests… In the church we are consumed with being joyful, content, at peace, successful… while so many people die who we could help if we would only live with less. A town that we will visit next week lost several adults and children to hunger a couple months ago and the whole town began a several week walk to the border of Namibia in search of help. I’ll find out next week what happened.
At our first stop in Mavinga, we met with the community health leaders for two hours to address the hunger issue. They shared that the government wasn’t helping. I asked them if they had thought to go to the churches to solicit help? The leader said he hadn’t thought of it but would do it and lay out the needs and see if the church community might help meet the local need. How will they respond? He will be asking hungry people for food. How would the church in the US respond if they were asked to give away some of their meals (and eat less) rather than give from their surplus and trash?
What would Jesus do if asked to give His life (or His clothes or His job or His meal or His house or His financial security) for another’s benefit? Are those who claim to follow Him today demonstrating that “there is no greater love than this, that one lay down his life for his friend”?
I’ve seen many patients (perhaps the majority) with heart rates over 100 with complaints of generalized weakness and pain. I’ve smelled ketosis on the breath of so many. Virtually everyone is markedly dehydrated. I gave a talk on nutrition during famine one morning before clinic and one woman spoke up while virtually everyone nodded in agreement when she said, “We just don’t have food.” Almost everyone I saw this week in Rivungo is in a state of mild to severe starvation.
Juliana is three months old and her mother’s milk “dried up” so they were “feeding” her river water after boiling it, because “her mouth was dry and she was thirsty”. Juliana was lethargic, barely responsive, and had severe calorie malnutrition at three months of age. The most vulnerable in this culture to malnutrition are those in their first few months after weaning from the breast (commonly between 1-2yr of age). For Juliana, malnutrition came quite early because of the famine and mom’s lack of calorie intake. I started antibiotics for suspected sepsis and told the mother to stop all water and begin nursing again. She looked at me incredulously and said the baby would die because she had no milk. I suggested trying for 24hr and seeing me the next day. I wondered myself… She arrived the next day grinning and in disbelief that she had more milk than ever before and that Juliana was sucking strongly and nursing well. The baby looked better. I knew that in this culture they begin food and liquid in the first couple weeks, which satisfies the baby, but without healthy nutrition, and diminishes the drive to suck (nursing requires much energy and if there is another way…). There is a great message for the church in this about pursuing what satisfies vs what is healthy. This mom had done what I suspected and when all the child could have was breast milk, she responded well and, even after only 24hr, the better nutrition showed. Over the next few days, Juliana has gained weight, has begun smiling, is crying strongly and mom just keeps grinning. Photo of Juliana after 4d of treatment, looking full of life.
Lidia (photos) was led into the room by her husband with her hands over her eyes. The husband said she had been unable to open her eyes for five years (!). Tears were streaming down Lidia’s cheeks and she said she felt like she has had sand in her eyes for five years. I put topical anesthetic in the corner of each of her closed eyes and she tried to blink. Within about a minute, she was pain-free and her reddened eyes were completely open. She said she could see but everything was blurry. We treated her for trachoma and hope that the scarring on her cornea isn’t completely permanent. Five years! Sometimes use words…
One morning I arrived at the clinic in Rivungo after walking five minutes from my room and several hospital staff had not arrived. There was a group of men chatting (Photo) and, instead of giving a talk to the group as I usually do, I sat near the six of them and, at a respectful break in their conversation, asked them what they thought this passage from Jesus meant. It was Jesus’ words from Mt 11 when He said, “Come to me, all who are burdened and weary, I will give you rest.” I said I had read this passage and wondered about its meaning. They took off! Their answers were insightful and thoughtful. I asked them if they thought this was God’s attitude toward them? They were all stunned and hadn’t ever considered that God would be more concerned about helping than punishing. Their God was obviously one of punishment and law and they all expressed enthusiasm that if what Jesus said was God’s attitude toward those who fail or are burdened or weak, that it could be life-changing. The whole conversation lasted about 15 minutes, I said very little, yet some light was shining in the dusty, cold, fearful religious hearts of these young men (mostly in their thirties), after looking at the heart of Jesus toward people who were weak, burdened, failing, etc (who the religious would call “sinners”). I saw each guy in the clinic through the day and they all shared how they were impacted by the discussion. What a blast to be able to reveal the real heart of my Father through Jesus’ simple, clear and preserved words…
Betsy and I are quite grateful, on this day and every day, for all of you who serve the beautiful Angolan people with us through your contributions and encouragement!