Communication is something we so take for granted in the US. In Angola, you can never call a store to check for product availability or an office to set up an appointment. In the cities, many people have cell phones, but rurally all communication is via word of mouth, and sometimes messages are passed between many people and they become inaccurate. A month prior to visiting Rivungo last month, we sent word of our scheduled arrival and work days. After we arrived, we found out that four blind men in their sixties were led by foot 7-8hr to see the visiting doctor but they arrived for their consults five days early because of an errant message. They hadn’t brought food and had no money to stay, so they returned to their village. We hope to see them in February and set them up to see Dr Collins for their hopefully curative cataract surgery. We see many with various eye diseases during our trips. I saw three people on this trip with trichiasis, the inward turning of the eyelid from trachoma, where the lashes chronically scratch the cornea, causing painful blindness. We hope to get them also to Dr Collins in February for surgery.
On my return to Cavango after a month of travel to Cuando Cubango, there were over 100 people sleeping on the ground, and waiting for the doctor’s return. More than half would have been admitted to an American hospital and many to an ICU! I saw eight people with severe heart failure before lunch on my first day back. Heart failure is quite common here, mainly because of two illnesses. Chronic high blood pressure in people in their 60s and older (it’s never treated here) and valve destruction from rheumatic heart disease (untreated strep throat) in younger patients. Of the eight that I saw, six were likely from hypertension. One woman in critical condition benefitted from about three days of oxygen, with an oxygen concentrator, hooked up to a 110/220 adapter and then connected through a window to a small generator on the ground outside, covered by tarp to protect it from the rain. A 61y/o man presented to us on the same morning after suffering from severe abdominal pain with vomiting and no intake for five days. We aspirated fluid from his abdomen to confirm his need for surgery (Photo), then contacted MAF and they kindly transported the man to Lubango for urgent surgery, where our beautiful surgical colleagues found, and removed, a ruptured gall bladder.
Without your contributions, our presence here, the MAF team, our devoted local staff and our surgery colleagues in Lubango (and all who contribute to these people and their work), this (young) man would not have lived another day. He is such a good example of the beauty and effectiveness of the body of Christ in our work and every member is necessary! Our King desires no one to journey alone without Him, the Maker and Lover of their souls who, as Peter wrote, desires every person to turn to Him and know Him… Every one of the thousands of healings in our work not only provides pain/symptom relief, but also provides people with more opportunities to meet Jesus, as He is, apart from religion and false preconceptions!
The Wind… Florencia (Photos) is a 35-year-old city teacher who was carried into my consultation room mid-morning last week by her husband and brother. They had traveled six hours by motorbike (man in front and man behind, with Florencia in between) from her city. She had a unique presentation, having lost the ability to speak and to walk over the previous week with fever and headache, but no other symptoms. She wrote out her symptoms on paper (her arms and mind were fine). Her malaria test was negative, so we prayed for her and used all the “mud and spit” (Jn 9) we had in treating her for other possible causes, as our ability to make a specific diagnosis is limited with no electricity or laboratory testing. We treated her for inflammation, for a parasite called schistosomiasis, for meningitis possibly caused by either tuberculosis or bacteria, for typhoid fever, and for syphilis, all of which could cause such symptoms and kill her. The next day she was talking and within a few days she was walking, bathing and eating. She is very bright, knew she was in dire straits on arrival and she voices gratitude, somewhat hoarsely, multiple times every time we enter her room. We’ll never know the cause, but she will recuperate fully from a deadly disease. The Wind! You all support a work with many such outcomes. An hour later, a one-year-old entered in a coma and has been in a coma for several days, also malaria negative. Another baby arrived and died within the hour. Always both such outcomes occur at the same time here and one never knows how or when the Wind will do His work…
No church or nonmedical “healing” ministry in the world sees more such miracles than we do in our little outpost in the middle of nowhere in Cavango. But because we use mud and spit (medications, experience and knowledge), many discredit our Father’s hand in these healings and don’t see them as miraculous. Our Father’s profound humility is demonstrated in that He loves using flawed and broken vessels (His body) to serve (and often heal) hurting people.
In our daily pre-clinic meeting this morning (photos) with patients and their families (about 75 adults), our local pastor shared about the story of Jonah and his encounter with the fish. I then shared about our Father’s Kingdom and how different it is from religion. Religion focuses on Jonah’s disobedience, completely missing the point of the story – our Father’s affection for the people of Nineveh, and how He called a flawed man to go to them to share of His severe love for them. Religion focuses on laws and rules and how we must obey these rules/laws to please God and avoid punishment and/or unpleasant circumstances. Jesus said we are already loved as much as we can possibly be loved (“No greater love is there than this, than one lays down his/her life for another.”), and we can divorce ourselves from striving to obey laws/rules and rather follow Him to seek others’ benefit and not our own (like He did/does). Jesus calls us to focus on others and not ourselves. Jonah’s error was his self-focus and God “encouraged” Jonah (through his experience with the fish) to rethink his motives and focus on the people of Nineveh, which He eventually did after quite a memorable three-day experience. So many of our unpleasant circumstances just may be our Father’s attempt (in radical love) to get our attention and we too often focus on our difficulty instead of seeking Him for how we might respond to our crisis, in order to benefit others (personal experience).
When we know our Father’s profound love for us, we can abandon our own comfort (He will care for us) and our focus on following laws and rules and, instead, seek to serve, as many as we can in whatever way we can, for their benefit. So many have turned Jesus’ kingdom into dos and don’ts, focusing on bettering themselves, and completely miss the point of His Gospel, which is centered on radical love for Him and for those around us, especially those hurting, in response to His extravagant and undeserved love for us. We can abandon the self-focus of religious performance and seek His will for us every day, which will always scream about the needs around us and whisper about our own stuff . Our life with Jesus is such an adventure, seeking out those who are hurting and lost, and helping them to Life and health. I shared that we will all die, but before we do, we can serve like the One we follow, knowing that one day (soon) we will meet Him face-to-face, and that He is preparing a home for us, from which we will continue to serve with Him for eternity.
Our clinic has become a work that continually brings people before our Father in prayer and then uses whatever means possible (mud and spit) to serve those hurting. When a patient registers, they are prayed for. When they receive medication, they are prayed for. When they receive a consultation, they are prayed for. Before the clinic every day, they are prayed for. When they improve, we pray in gratitude to the Healer of our souls and bodies… all because we know from whom our help comes… It’s a beautiful work to be a part of!
The economy here remains atrocious. A man arrived at our clinic at 3p for a consult and we told him that he could pay $6 for an immediate consult (all arrivals after mid-day pay double to better control the flow of patients for our limited staff) or sleep on the ground and pay $3US for a consult in the morning. Without hesitation, he chose a consult the following morning, to save more than a local day’s wage.
You may remember the story of the woman who lost her hand a couple months ago when she awakened to her right arm without skin and burnt black and painless. Our CEML colleagues amputated her arm and we treated her other hand for second-degree burns. Her left hand has worsened significantly and needs amputated, as well. She and her family insist that there was no fire and it all happened because of a curse. She went to sleep at night and awoke the next morning in no pain, but with all flesh gone in her right arm and 2nddegree (painless) burns on her left hand. Please let me know if you’ve heard of anything like this as it defies reality for me to go from normal to so completely burnt while sleeping and experiencing no pain, whether the burn is from heat, chemicals, poisons, etc. So many chronic wounds here get “cleaned” by maggots because of the abundance of flies, and hers was no different (Photo).
Could it be that we, as an American church and culture, see Jesus errantly? Could it be that the key to life is self-abandonment for the sake of others and not self-focus on our performance? Could it be that the message that got Jesus killed was not the “seeker-sensitive”, “come as you are and you will be accepted and loved” message, but rather “abandon who you are” and surrender who you are to your crazy-beautiful and loving King? Both… and? We hear much of the former and little of the latter. We find verses to support tolerant, “you’re OK, I’m OK, “live and let live”, “love yourself first” philosophies in the church, while Jesus modeled laying down His life for the sake of others and, if we truly follow Him, we will do the same. So many people say they follow Jesus, but they only embrace His teachings that support their comfortable, modern, luxurious life. I read a famous Christian author recently say that, to find fulfillment, we must pursue our own joy first and foremost… Today’s church message has been so Americanized that the “pursuit of happiness” is considered a Kingdom value! Did you know that the average American gives 2-3% of their income away and the average American church-goer gives 2-3% of their income away? Jesus indicated that what we do with our “treasure” reveals our genuine beliefs much more accurately than all of our intentions and words. Why would a church-goer give his/her income (or life) away if the Kingdom of God revolves around his/her happiness/contentment?
Perhaps the difference is that Jesus wasn’t a recruiter and had no organization to sustain. I was told by several people during our Home Assignment last summer that I was not a good recruiter. I’m in good company. Jesus said, “Follow me. I have nowhere to lay my head”. Today’s churches seek more people to be part of their club/church. Belonging to a church isn’t necessarily unhealthy, but Jesus said, “Go” to them and today’s churches say, “come” to us Our ways seem right to us, but are we imitating the One we claim to follow? Jesus never planted a church or an organization and He didn’t have training workshops on church planting, church growth and organizational success. He called people to follow Him as He followed His Father. No classes, no degree, no building, no pulpit, no services… The Kingdom arrived around meals, in sweaty fields, in houses, on lake shores, and in the streets, while He served and touched and fed, as He lived out every moment of every day… We don’t look anything like Him! We live in luxury and He had no house. We emphasize instruction, study and education, while He emphasized sweaty service. He emphasized relationships and we hold seminars and conferences…
Being a missionary has taught me that we can seek/gather crowds or we can make disciples. They each are formed quite differently. The difference between the two is that Jesus instructed us to make disciples, which cannot be done in a crowd. Crowds build the esteem of the crowd-gatherer, but are lousy places for developing transparent, close relationships. To speak to crowds periodically, as Jesus did, is healthy and will be a place from which smaller groups and discipleship relationships can form. The American church gathers in a crowd every Sunday and calls it “church”, when it is actually an instructional lecture or motivational speech and does virtually nothing re making disciples. We don’t know our leaders/pastors, to know if they are more than good teachers/preachers and whether they actually live what they teach. A nurse about my age last month in Jamba, in the middle of rural nowhere, who confessed to no relationship with God, hung on my every word for three days while we ate together, worked and sweated and spent every waking minute together, said he wasn’t interested in teachings from someone who didn’t live what they taught, which was his opinion of church leaders. Such simple wisdom is lost both here in rural Africa and in our celebrity US culture that revolves around crowds and not disciple-making, where the disciples know everything about the one they follow.
A disciple in Jesus’ day lived with, ate with, worked with, followed, and sat at the feet of… their rabbi, teacher, master, lord. The best modern term we have for disciple is “apprentice”, one who lives, eats and works with the “master” for the purpose of learning and imitating. Where is this happening in American churches, which claim to follow Jesus, who said, “Go” and “make disciples”?
In Cavango and in our MAF clinics, we make disciples. Disciples who live, eat and worship together, who care for the hurting together, who together bring their cares to their Father, who humbly seek help from each other and from their Father, who together succeed and fail, who sweat and work together, who learn together… We go where people live in order to find the hungry, lost and blind to lead them to Jesus… and disciple and serve them… to help them know our Father… and who will then lead others to Him…
We remember this week the birth of our King, and His life, given for us, that we could journey with Him, never alone, for the sake of those He loves…
We hope for you a week of worship, celebration and peace, knowing you are His… today and forever…