Knowledge, Law, Sales, Firmino…


Gatherings… Every morning in Cavango, promptly at 7:30a, one of the nurses outside the clinic begins to sing a hymn in the misty, morning silence.  People from around the hospital campus begin to walk slowly to the front of our clinic and sit with us on wooden benches, arranged in a circle.  They are the sick and hurting, and their caregivers, and they gather to seek help, together. Many sit with us daily for weeks while receiving treatment.  They learn of the Kingdom of God and gain knowledge about improving their physical health.  They are hungry for practical knowledge and hungry for hope, for this most difficult life, and for the life to come. They ask questions and interact with each other and with me.


Today we talked about the value of knowledge.  In the US, we have such an over-abundance of conflicting information and we must determine which has value.  We have a church, school, university and clinic on every corner, all competing for “customers”, while much of the world goes without these sources of knowledge. Here the rural people are exposed to almost no knowledge.  There are no books, magazines, news sources, universities, clinics, churches, etc.  The only outside information comes via transistor radios, which have access to only a few, government-censored stations. We watch this play out every day in our neighbor and guard, an example of most people here, who is a living illustration of vulnerability for lack of knowledge in that he is quite bright, with the highest level of integrity, but doesn’t know how to read, write, add or subtract and, therefore, enters every negotiation at a disadvantage and is easily taken advantage of….


From my medical training and experience, I communicate how to improve health, via prevention and evidence-based diagnosis and treatment, to the people in rural Angola who know so little, having been largely cut off from the world’s progress during their 30+ year civil war.  Like with my Father, some accept and some reject wise and proven instruction. For example, for six years we have been “preaching” about the danger of malaria and the value of prevention and early treatment.  Today, we see people arrive so much earlier and we have had so many less malaria deaths this year.  And yet we still see many people wait and suffer consequences.  This week we had dozens arrive in the first days of fever, receive treatment and survive without consequence, though we also had several deaths in kids whose parents waited…


Knowledge… As we gain knowledge, we gain the ability to intervene in our circumstances. We learn from others’ successes and failures and then apply this knowledge to our lives.  Not in Angola.  Culturally, Angolans are non-interventionalists.  They value far more the ability to bear unpleasant circumstances than to improve them, because their lack of knowledge prevents them from exploring possible improvements.  Both have value, but in sharing yesterday morning about how to assess one’s child at home to determine if they need outside help (a clinic or hospital), none of the 70+ adults who gathered that day knew anything about what we would consider basic, common-sense, health knowledge. Who will teach these folks basic health knowledge and introduce them to Jesus?


Knowing… Without ever minimizing the importance of gaining knowledge about life and about God, Jesus came and said the most humanly absurd.  He said that He was truth and He was life.  He said that knowing Him is life, now and eternally.  He de-emphasized a focus on following laws and emphasized a focus on walking with Him, knowing Him, and learning from Him.  He indicated that because He was the fulfillment of all law, those who followed Him (and loved God and others before themselves) would abide by all appropriate laws.  He reversed the cart and horse!  A new covenant!  Many believe that by obeying Jewish laws and the bible, we please God and become closer to Him, while Jesus said the exact opposite!  He said He would guide the behavior of His people via His Spirit rather than via rules and laws… yet the modern church teaches, and strives to obey, what is written…


Distinctions… worthy of meditation for those who consider themselves Jesus-followers: What is the difference between a Jesus-follower and a law follower?  What is the difference between a Jesus-follower and a bible-follower?  Is there a difference between knowing the bible and knowing Jesus?


Reality… has changed me.  After holding so many dying or dead kids, one’s world view is transformed and how I follow rules/laws has become quite insignificant. My world view is based on a reality that sees, hears and smells pain and death every day, often caused by human wounding and/or neglect, invariably by people who are self-focused and law-abiding. ALL people embrace certain laws/rules and disregard others…  Is a Jesus-follower distinguished from someone who doesn’t follow Jesus by the fact that they adhere to different rules and laws?  Or is a Jesus-follower different because he/she is led by Jesus’ Spirit rather than rules and laws?  Jesus said His people would not live better lives, but they would die to this life for the sake of others (like He did)!  Where are they?  We could “turn the world upside down” again if even just half of all Jesus-followers would imitate Jesus (do what He did) and His apostles (the first followers), and go and live/work/love where people are hurting and need to hear the Good News of His affection for them…


History… As I long to see the rural people of Angola rescued from pain, from loss, from confusion and despair, I wonder about my Father’s observations and interventions over the centuries. He has seen so much good and so much evil generated by those He created in His own image, whom He gave the freedom to choose… to honor their Father and Creator and others, to follow Him and His way of love and care, to honor and appreciate the wondrous universe that He created in detail we have only begun to understand… or not.  Through the centuries, He sent many messages, calling people to walk with Him, to know Him… As I was chewing on this, one of our clinic workers led our morning conversation with patients and their families with the following from Jer 9:23-24.

      “Don’t let the wise boast in their wisdom, or the powerful boast in their power, or the rich boast in their riches.   But those who wish to boast should boast in this alone: that they truly know me and understand that I am the Lord who demonstrates unfailing love and who brings justice and righteousness to the earth, and that I delight in these things. I, the Lord, have spoken! (emphasis mine)


Our Father hasn’t changed at all and when Jesus revealed Him in human flesh, He was the same as He’s been throughout history…


Laws… So many wars and church divisions have been initiated by passionate law-followers (when we call someone evil, we give ourselves the right to eliminate them).  Though our Father historically gave people civil laws by which to live, His words always prioritized relationship with Him and honoring others.  He called people to Himself, but people have so often chosen to embrace performance and laws over a relationship with Him…


Jesus said to make disciples rather than create and follow a “constitution” of laws and doctrines.  Disciples know their master.  Emphases, motivation, passion and temperament are revealed in relationship.  Those discipled learn via observation, interaction and imitation.  The records we have of Jesus’ earthly life are hugely relevant, remarkably preserved and worthy of regular review.  But He lived, served, and loved all, focused on discipling a few… and didn’t set up seminaries of intellectual study about God!


Knowing about someone is certainly necessary to know them, but knowing about someone is quite different than knowing them, and Jesus wanted to be known – His priorities, His loves and hates, His routines, etc.  He made Himself known…  He said that, after He returned home, He would live IN us, and we would know Him, walk with Him, talk with Him, partner with Him in His work to draw others to love Him and to love those He loved.  I don’t recall Him encouraging us to sacrificial devotion to gaining more intellectual knowledge about Him and His words (the emphasis of most churches).


Most Angolan churches (which are located mainly in the cities) meet in church buildings which they actually call “temples”, and there is much choir singing and ritual, virtually no interaction and everyone faces the front and listens to a seminary-trained pastor preach about God and the bible.  Prayers are loud declarations that would never be shouted at the feet of the King. They tell God what to do, there is little sincere worship, most messages are from the Old Testament, and being morally “good” (following “biblical” laws) is the goal.  I struggle with sadness when people “right in their own eyes” proudly focus on laws and rules in Jesus’ name, while genuine, humble interaction with, and surrender to, the living Jesus is not prioritized.


This is why we introduce people to Jesus and form disciples outside of any organized church, though we encourage participation in a local church (where they exist) to effect change from within.  Though rural churches are few, they are also all about religion and law-following.  The clinic in Cavango, on the other hand, has become an amazing setting for making disciples.  We demonstrate serving, we honor each other, we converse about everything, we support each other through difficulty…  The disciples we work with daily see all the flaws and strengths of the one discipling.  Anger, sadness, joy and all other human emotions are present.  There are no masks and successes and failures are experienced together…  We then have the privilege of sharing about Jesus and encouraging relationship with Him with a different group of patients and their families every day.


Sales… It seems to me that sales in a free market are usually generated by either a good product or a good seller.  In Cavango, we “sell” the best products – Knowing Jesus and evidence-based medicine, both reliable and life-changing. The seller, however, is not charismatic, average in every way and from the other side of the world. Those “competing” with us are charismatic shamans, who speak the same heart language, who are from the same culture and who are incredibly good sellers. We often lose the battle.  Most of our patients with an illness that has lasted more than a week have visited the shaman, and their bodies reveal the scars of all of the weird treatments that they received. Today, a ten-year-old boy in a malaria coma was taken from our hospital by his parents to see the shaman, because they saw no results in the first 24hr.  I lost the “sales” battle.


Jesus’ emphasis was on relationships, with His Father and with people.  A major difference between a pursuit of humble relationships and following laws is that every relationship is different, and freedom is a necessary component of relationships.  Relationships are not black and white!  Jesus invites each of us to “abide in Him”, as we are and where we are (all different).  Then we do what He does, using all of our different temperaments, skills, scars, strengths and weaknesses, to benefit others.  Have you noticed that religious people study and Jesus-lovers serve?  Both can be healthy, but what was the proportion of each in Jesus’ life?  We will all find out one day which Jesus valued more, but the world is full of people dying without knowing Jesus while we study and have another meeting, service, conference…


People who know Jesus have completely different values than church-goers who don’t.  They are lovers of Him and lovers of people and don’t have the time or energy to be concerned with laws and rules.  They talk with Him often and seek His counsel, about whom, where and how to serve.  Material possessions and ambitions mean little and people, especially hurting people, take priority, as we witnessed in Jesus’ earthly life. But… so many religious “Christians” focus on laws and rules and don’t have the time or motivation to pour themselves into serving others!  Church people are often passionate over disagreements that meant nothing to Jesus. People hate others in Jesus’ name when Jesus said to love your enemies.  People say they follow Jesus, yet can’t love/honor those who disagree with them.  Jesus emphasized a surrendered, conversational relationship with Him, and He indicated that if we follow Him, we would become like Him.  He was about setting captives free, healing the broken, and extending passionate grace and mercy for screw-ups, like me.  He violated well-established Jewish laws for the sake of helping hurting people…


Leaders… In Angola and in the US, we too often follow people who speak of devotion to God and act differently than Jesus.  They often love crowds and not people.  Jesus said His church would have overseers and leaders and that His people should never follow leaders who are not like Him!  One who lives a sacrificial life of servanthood (like that of Jesus), is to lead His people and no one else, no matter how well-intended, talented, well-studied or charismatic!


Sheep follow wolves in Angola all the time.  Churches and church leaders can gain affluence and, especially in the cities, the “health and wealth”, “me” “gospel” and dead, burdensome “Christian” religion are both alive and well.  What we forget is that wolves are not necessarily obviously evil, but they care for themselves and care not for the sheep.  We currently have four patients in our hospital who paid a shaman to help them with a minor illness, who then fed them a poisonous mixture of (all-natural) plants and roots and they are dying a slow and painful death from liver failure.  They trusted (and paid) without knowing the person, didn’t assess risk and will “perish for lack of knowledge”.


The church environment, at least in Cavango, may change, as we have a new pastor named Firmino.  He came to Cavango because he heard of our work and lives and he knew that this region is completely unreached with the Good News.  He and his wife are truly Angolan missionaries to the unreached, rural Angolan people as their family left their home and traveled here to join us. They have lived without any comforts for a year (slept on the ground, no table, chairs, cooked on open fires, etc) and our beautiful home church from the US, VCDC, and all those who support this work, are outfitting his simple home with beds, dishes, chairs and some other basics to help enable him to more focus on his work.  We are also looking into a simple motorbike so he isn’t limited in his ability to visit people and villages.  A beautiful, across-the-ocean, partnership will work to reach the unreached and hurting.  So beautiful!  Our disciples in the hospital work for peanuts because they believe in serving and loving the hurting in this very rural area. We gave them a small end-of-year bonus and Saturday we have set aside a special day of celebration (and some nice food) to show our appreciation for their efforts.  Our Father is moving in a special way in this rural outpost and you are supporting something pretty special in Cavango as we enter 2020…


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