We concluded our trip to the SE in the towns of Nancova and Rivungo. Both are quite remote and yet so different. Both are situated on large river basins, Nancova on the Kuito River and Rivungo on the Cuando River. Rivungo is on the border of a remote part of Zambia and Nancova in the interior of the country.
We were received with enthusiasm by the hospital team in Nancova, who had developed a list of complicated cases that they couldn’t resolve and we saw only 28 patients in two days, but most who needed expertise more than what the local team could provide. We were able to treat most and we arranged transport via MAF for the others to where treatment could be realized.
Marijn, our MAF pilot, asked the administration of Nancova to cut the meter-high grass on the airstrip and the next morning, 15 people were on the airstrip at 5a cutting the grass with hoes (enchadas) and machetes.
In Rivungo, on the other hand, we had more confrontations. The first day we faced radical apathy and complete lack of preparedness in the hospital staff for our visit, and a long line of people waiting to be seen. There were many patients who wanted a consultation and few were screened beforehand. I gathered the team and told them that we might be leaving, I wrote our MAF pilot to see if he could fly and I went to the mayor of the town, who is new and we had just met the day before. He responded beautifully and, under his leadership, the team did, as well. We had three full days of consultations, with excellent help by the hospital staff.
I spoke at two small churches gatherings on consecutive Sundays about when Jesus met with Moses and Elijah on the mountain, witnessed and recorded by several disciples, and a voice from a cloud spoke, identified who Jesus was and told the disciples to listen to HIM. The voice did not say “Listen to THEM”. I challenged the small church gathering that Jesus is alive and we can listen to Him and walk with Him every moment and this relationship with Him is the key to life. The church-goers here love meeting together for services, singing and a hearing a message. They would rather design and perform these orderly services with detailed rules to follow (Moses and Elijah) and feel good about their performance around these effortless rituals and call this following Jesus, than hand Jesus a blank page and invite Him to instruct them however He might.
In the rest of the world, we are the same – following/obeying a living Jesus is unknown. A genuine, “Jesus, what would you have me do?” is not a common personal conversation among church-goers. We hear each other’s thoughts, philosophies and theology at services, programs and conferences, we listen to the culture through news agencies, politicians and social media, we chase after improving our self-esteem, we pursue pleasure and anything to lessen our insecurity, we seek affirmation from others…
The current headlines are all about the Coronavirus, which has killed 800 people globally in the last several months and claims the lives of 2-3 people for every 100 victims. We read much about refugees and migrants and, of these, 15 people die daily around the world. An average of one person per day dies crossing the Mexican-America border. Yet… malaria kills 3000 kids every day and I haven’t read a thing about it. The church is the same. Jesus told us to “Go”, to abandon our lives, to not pursue financial gain (two masters), to esteem servants rather than speakers, to embrace His New Covenant rather than the Old Covenant, to make life choices based on the Kingdom of God and not on where my best job might be, to love our enemies and treat respectfully those who disagree with us, etc but we are preoccupied with other things. In the palatial American church, charisma and entertainment drive our choice of leadership, two week vacations to the “third world” are “missions”, we plant another church on every corner instead of going where people haven’t heard the Good News, we live where we can have the best job rather than where the need for the Kingdom and/or where the physical need to serve is greatest, we seek to make converts and grow our church rather than make disciples…
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been told that I must be careful because I will burn out, by people who have read Jesus’ words… “Blessed are the poor in spirit (broken, tired, even depressed); blessed are those who mourn (who embrace those facing loss, tragedy, pain), blessed are the meek/humble (not those who have it all together and can naturally “gather” and lead); blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (this is painful longing for eliminating injustices, including willingness to confront – even to death – those who abuse and neglect those our Father loves); blessed are those who love and offer mercy to the unlovable, who seek out and find the wrecked and broken and those who have failed and serve and embrace them (wash their feet); blessed are the singularly focused on Him and His unseen Kingdom – not those who balance the pursuit of self-fulfillment with pursuing Jesus… One simply cannot lay their mental, emotional and physical health on the line every day and be a smiley-faced, happy, comfortable, relaxed person.
One cannot do trips like I just did on alternating months, and work in a remote (and desperately needy) place like Cavango otherwise, without consequences. Soldiers cannot leave a war zone without emotional and physical scars and the same applies here. This all is part of the abandonment that comes with genuinely following Jesus to the cross. We are to be cross-goers, not church-goers. These trips are so difficult, as it’s so crazy hard to see people suffer tremendously and die of preventable and treatable infirmities. I say this not to trumpet the nobility of our work, but because I am alone, trying to somehow do the work that the rest of the world won’t do. Why am I alone in a place so absent of the Kingdom and so in need of “Good Samaritans” or, by Jesus’ definition, “neighbors”, and there is no one in the American church interested in joining me? For 15 years, through writing, hosting visitors, speaking at churches, small groups and to individuals, modeling, challenging, encouraging, etc, I have tried to recruit others to join me and have completely and utterly failed. We receive pats on the back, “likes” and hear “well done” but the church either places little value on those we serve, doesn’t respect us or the work we are doing, or believes they have no role in the world outside of the palace in which they live.
My physical desires and with what gender do I want to engage sexually, my opinion of Trump, my job satisfaction, my yearly bonus or pay raise, my worship preference, the color of my living room, my favorite “reality” show, and my next vacation all take preference in the American church to “pick up your cross and follow Me”… to “go”, to serve… “the least”… and to make disciples where there are none…
Team effort… What a beautiful demonstration of the efforts of so many people to save one woman’s life. Her mother, in a village with grass roofs and no modern anything, recognized that something wasn’t right with her daughter when she had several months of vaginal bleeding and walked with her a half-day to the hospital. She was met by a local worker who concurred and admitted the woman to the Nancova hospital and began what little treatment they had. She was told that an American doctor was arriving in a couple days and might be able to help. The staff presented her to me (I’m here because of the sacrificial contributions and sweat of so many who contribute to our work) and, while her exam was unremarkable, her ultrasound (purchased years ago by contributions of over 100 people to our ministry) exam revealed gestational trophoblastic disease, a tumor in the uterus releasing pregnancy hormones. With continued growth, this can turn into a deadly form of cancer, but a simple procedure of curetting the uterus provides a cure. We arranged transport via MAF (whose flights and pilots are supported by hundreds of people) to transport her to a facility that could complete this procedure. From Mom to the Nancova hospital staff to so many contributors to MAF – it was all set… and she refused.
Her story is repeated over and over in the world every day. Our Father sends circumstances and people our way to draw us to Him, to recognize His goodness, to find Life in Him… and so many simply refuse. Love doesn’t coerce or manipulate, love invites. Refusal of love is always possible, whether that love is from a person or from our Father, because love involves prioritizing the other, and prioritizing the other defers to their choices. The beloved is free to accept or reject, to reciprocate , or not. Jesus loves us more than humanly possible (Greater love has no one than this…”), and He calls us to abandon our lives and, with Him, go to the “least”… and so many refuse.
I likely often teeter on burn out (whatever that really is), because I am broken, weak and flawed… and alone. The last week of the trip I was joined by a beautiful brother and it was a totally different and pleasant environment for me, because of Eduardo’s presence. “Many hands make light work.” The burning out of a soldier is not necessarily the fault of the soldier, but the fault of the reality of the ugliness of battle and the lack of enough support from his fellow troops to finish off the enemy. The burning out of a missionary is often not the fault of the missionary as much as it’s the crazy awful pain, injustice, neglect and abuse confronted on the field, and the abandonment of his fellow “troops” in their refusal to join the work, which they are free to do.
“God uses broken things. It is the broken alabaster jar that gives forth perfume. It is the broken soil that produces a crop; it is the broken clouds that give rain; it is the broken grain that gives bread, and it is the broken bread that gives strength… God uses broken things.” -Vance Havner
There is no person without wounds, scars, unbroken. In this life, there is no such thing as “complete healing”, “complete transformation”, “complete wholeness”, “complete surrender”, etc as every person has ongoing battles lost, unresolved conflicts (broken relationships), ongoing sadness and grief (broken expectations and longings), ongoing doubts (broken faith), ongoing weaknesses (broken humanness)… But, more importantly, we can know our Father’s unconditional love for us, His joy over us and His forgiveness and washing for all our failures.
We err when we pursue completeness and wholeness in this life and the whole church is caught in this goal and pursuit. It is part of the prosperity “gospel” which claims that Jesus’ message is that we should experience heaven now. Jesus and the early church are our examples. “In this world you will have tribulation”. I will suffer and so will you”. “The servant is not greater than his master…” Like Jesus and like them, we are to abandon our pursuit of wholeness and seek out others broken to introduce them to Jesus, to bind their wounds, to serve them and wash their feet, to communicate the hope of the resurrection to come, to encourage them to then go and do the same. This is the church, the body of Jesus, giving their lives for the broken. Broken embracing broken. There is so much energy wasted in the futile pursuit of wholeness, of healing, of completeness. Only Jesus is whole and He sent His spirit to live within broken vessels to pursue and care for others broken now and to communicate the hope of wholeness tomorrow. If the church abandoned its pursuit of heaven on earth, people with great needs/hurts would not remain abandoned by the church.
We are to deny ourself, “pick up our cross”, not pursue heaven on earth. The cross is a painful burden embraced for the benefit of another, with NO benefit to the cross-bearer! The church is focused on its own benefit and has turned down Jesus’ invitation to pursue others broken. The church has been given so much to distribute to those hurting and we hoard it unto ourselves and call it “blessing”.
I used to mock people who said the world’s problems were because of “sin”. Too religious, I thought… there is much more to it. But is there? Angola is in such a state because of thirty years of civil war, won by a party bent on self-serving corruption, so the wealth of the nation doesn’t benefit the people. There is virtually no outside help in Angola because the rest of the world (and the “church”) is too busy pursuing personal happiness to care. Maybe the ills of the world (and the church) are more about a self-centered pursuit of self-fulfillment and independence from God (sin) than I initially thought…