Newsletters, Changes, CoVid, Stuck, Eternity…

 

Missionaries send out all types of newsletters.  As you know, we have selected a website and blog to communicate with you, our partners in faithfully serving the beautiful rural people of Angola.  My communication has been, and will always be, an honest, raw, and accurate portrayal of our work.  My goal is to candy-coat nothing; you read and see what we do and you also get my (often brevity-challenged) perspective.  I could make it all positive and pretty…  I’ve received some positive and negative communications this month about my honesty in recent posts, all with concern and written in love.  Some were concerned that I seemed depressed and/or angry.  I hope you are able to appreciate the fact that much news in this work isn’t rosy, but so many are benefiting, always at a cost to all involved (elbows, feet and fingers) in serving these folks.  The encouragement and compassion are nice to receive, but we need help.  What it means to follow Jesus is tested most when we must prioritize our well-being or that of another, because when we prioritize another’s well-being, it will often result in sacrifice of our own…

 

Please remember that you are not supporting Tim and Betsy, but you are supporting the rural people of Angola, and their ability to hear of Jesus’ affection for them and you are supporting our ability to serve each hurting person with evidence-based medicine, an embrace, a sucker and/or a cup of cold water, whichever is needed, to communicate our Father’s love.  The results have been phenomenal over the past seven years and you are as much a part of each interaction as we are, because we can’t be here without your sacrificial partnership.

 

An old proverb, reiterated frequently in God’s interaction with people throughout history: “Quick changes don’t last.”  Will our ministry be like a tree, with slow, strong growth, or like the seasonal grasses that spring up and whither?  It’s communicated in mission work that about five years of cross-cultural relationships are needed to see lasting changes.  We’ve seen this need for trust development – over time.  We hear often, “You came back!”  This “staying” communicates care, and love acknowledged and received is the seed of trust that produces change.  These folks know so little about health, about the Kingdom of God centered on our Father’s affection for them, and about practical interventions learned elsewhere in the world during the civil war years that can here build hope for tomorrow.  We can communicate (preach, teach) all we want, but without trust, the communication will not germinate or produce lasting fruit.  As the folks with whom we have lived and worked over time see us react to all circumstances, see both our humanness and Jesus in us, evidence of this trust that will produce lasting change seems to be germinating in Cavango.

 

One can build real trust with only a few.  Jesus’ life demonstrated the same.  There is much talk in missionary circles about church planting.  We are not called to have church services, rather to “go” to the naked, hurting, and hungry, and make disciples.  It is my belief that Jesus’ orders to His followers, especially cross-culturally, were to make disciples, who then make disciples – a group of which is called a church.  In Cavango, we are building deep relationships, over time, with a few people, who will do the same, who will then do the same…  Trees vs grass.  We can bring in speakers, instruments and modern gadgets, build big buildings (often called “churches”), hold beautiful services with large gatherings, etc, or we can live here, sweat here, serve here, wash feet here… and model the life of a Jesus-follower which, over time, will be reproduced in others, who will do the same…  This is the Kingdom multiplication principle we follow, modeled by Jesus, and it is slow, sacrificial, difficult and we are beginning to see fruit.  I meet twice weekly with our staff to talk about medicine, cases, our work, our philosophy, the Kingdom of God, etc and we are seeing more animated interest and interaction than we’ve ever seen.

 

Hand of Hope Ministries, a branch Joyce Meyer Ministries doing beautiful work throughout the world, gets it.  They have committed to help us with our hospital project in Cavango.  AGA, a small mission of beautiful people also committed to serving the people in Cavango, gets it.  SIM, our supporting mission organization, gets it.  MAF, our aviation partner, gets it.  All of their encouragement and support over these previous years has been a “lifter of my head” and the people here are just beginning to “get it”.

 

We just hired 31 people to begin the ongoing construction work.  They are thrilled to be working for $2/day, and they work hard.  They truly see their work as a way to contribute to a cause they firmly believe in – their clinic/hospital serving the people of this whole region.  They hear all the time from me about the support from people on the other side of the world that makes our service possible.  They know that this is not the work of Tim and Betsy, but of a team of many people who simply want to serve people who need help.  The Kingdom of God modeled by Jesus and His followers – legs, arms and feet that abandon their own desires for the will of the Head – Our Father.

 

Many of you support this work consistently and others sent in recent donations that allowed us to begin the same construction project – which will allow us to improve our services (foot washing and serving, not holding “church” services) in Cavango by putting every inpatient in a roof-covered bed, providing simple electricity and plumbing, providing simple x-ray and lab services, etc.  We are bringing water to the village in sufficient quantities that they have never had.  Please consider further donations to help with this project that will serve so many in this region who have nowhere else to go for help.

 

Our morning meetings with patients and their families, who we touch and embrace and treat throughout each day, have been growing.  Consistently over 100 adults gather each morning to hear the Good News of Jesus’ affection for them, hear about ways to improve their physical health, and then have their wounds and illnesses tended to daily as a demonstration of our affection for them and how we value them (as does our Father).  They meet with us outside most days and crowd under a roof during the rain (Photos).  Some don’t survive, but they are loved and cared for in their last days.  Many survive and return to their villages after encounters of love and knowledge of Jesus they wouldn’t have had without having been served in Cavango.

 

Regarding the global CoVid crisis…  Jesus calls us to, as He did, run TO the fire, the illness, the pain, the sorrow, the fear, the tragedy, the alone, the confused… to serve, to touch, to embrace, to encourage… even to the point of loss of our life… Wouldn’t it be something to see hospitals, nursing homes, PT practices, urgent cares, grocery stores, etc full of Jesus-loving/people-loving volunteers, doing whatever might be helpful…  Church leaders – perhaps consider contacting your local hospitals and offering help to the crazy-extended health care workers with meals, shopping, anything that would lessen their tremendous burden, which will extend into coming months.  The toll on health care workers will be great.  The church around the world can step up in so many ways, not by defying common sense and holding church services, but by hitting the streets and doing menial tasks for anyone and everyone, “embracing the lepers”, the homeless, the forgotten, as Jesus did…

 

Three beautiful, short-stature patients (“dwarfs”), two having endured bladder-vagina fistulas for over twenty years (constant flow of urine onto clothes, legs, bedding), were brought to Cavango by the third, who’d had her fistula repaired surgically, but who had signs of cervical cancer.  We had a scheduled flight with MAF and it was raining severely, with less-than-ideal visibility.  MAF had already had a flight cancelled for the day because of weather risk.  I must always decide, before every MAF flight, if the flight is worth the risk.  On this morning, it was another tough call.  I drove to the hospital weighing the risk/benefit for each person.  I arrived at the hospital and found out that two of the women had young children that needed to go with them.  Five people, six with our MAF pilot, Brent, who chose to fly at risk, in lousy weather conditions.  The ambulance would be at risk on the hour drive to the airstrip, as the road was mostly water and slick as ice on the many hills.  We had to check and make sure none had fevers, because of the CoVid policies at the airport.  The women only had poor copies of their ID documents, many of which are sometimes turned away at the receiving airport.  Flights were being cancelled at the Lubango airport because of CoVid-19. They might not be able to get help for a month or more…  They must have said “Thank you” twenty times before they left, and all I did was arrange transport for their surgical need. They arrived at our mother hospital in Lubango safely.  On the flight here, a woman returned with her fistula repaired… and a new life (Photo).

 

Our oxygen concentrator, purchased by your contributions, saved the life of a two-month-old, who arrived with viral pneumonia and a low oxygen level, breathing over 100x/minute. The 110V oxygen concentrator was plugged into a 110/220 transformer, plugged into two extension cords, plugged into a small 220V generator outside the window on the ground, covered by a sheet of metal to protect from the rain…  Two days of oxygen later, she was nursing and breathing easily.  I wonder what our Father has for her…

 

The same day, a three-month-old arrived with neck swelling and difficulty breathing.  He was nursing and, for the most part, breathing fast but unobstructed.  I knew he likely had supraglottitis, a condition that can swell the epiglottis, close the airway and asphyxiate the child.  He needed me to cut into his neck below the obstruction and place a tube for an airway.  I thought he would make it through the night. I was wrong.

 

Another boy of two years arrived with neck swelling from an abscess, also with much stridor and respiratory difficulty.  We opened his neck and drained about 50ml of pus and he survived.

 

Today is my day off (best day to sit and write some thoughts) and I just returned from my third return visit to the hospital after a full morning of inpatient rounds and a few new consults.  Disciples are made when those who work with you see you endure risk, crises and fatigue, not by teaching bible studies and holding church services…

 

We are in the peak of Influenza season and the peak of malaria season, and now CoVid…  We admitted five people yesterday with severe pneumonia and saw perhaps 150 cases of malaria this week and the same number with fever without malaria – influenza.  CoVid is just now arriving in Angola.  The fear of the unknown is as real here as everywhere else…  my morning talks at the clinic this week will focus on these three illnesses and how each family can make decisions at home as to when to go to the hospital.  There are literally no clinics or hospitals for hundreds of miles where they can go where these three illnesses can be differentiated and treated appropriately. Malaria will kill more people in Angola this year than CoVid will kill in the entire world…  Please pray for wisdom and strength in this season, for us and for these beautiful people.

 

Two days ago, at the end of a long day, a visitor arrived at our door and told us that the ambulance was stuck.  I had given permission to the driver earlier in the day to travel a couple miles off the dirt road and follow a walking path to a bridge we had constructed a couple years ago, that is estimated to be used 1000x/week, to take some men and do some repairs, because the river had risen to record levels and was washing away some of the planks (normally three meters above the river).  They didn’t make it.  I left immediately and told the guys with me that my biggest concern was getting stuck while trying to free the ambulance.  I drove through grass taller than our car, through water and swamp for thirty minutes to where the ambulance was stuck.  As I carefully and slowly approached the ambulance from a distance of about 50 meters, on firm dirt, about two miles off the dirt road in the river valley, I suddenly went down, buried up to half of all four tires, in slimy and slippery muck.  The path went from solid to mush that quickly.  I was stuck, but close enough to use the winch.  The winch didn’t work.

 

Myself and nine men worked for three hours, jacking up each corner of my car, cutting branches (there were few bushes and trees in the valley) to put under the tires, and pushing it about three meters, watching it sink again, and repeating the process. After I was freed, we freed the ambulance in another hour.  We had a shovel and three flashlights because Betsy recommended taking the same as I walked out the door, an hour before sunset.  We were covered in mud and eaten alive by insects in the swampy darkness. I have difficulty moving my arms, fingers and broken nails still today because most of our digging was with our hands.  As I was in the middle of the three hours, tired before I even left the house, pretty convinced that we couldn’t free the cars that night and looking at about a five hour, uphill walk home in the darkness, I actually became privately emotional for the second time this week (the first when I was told of the death of the baby with epiglottitis) and found myself asking if it is all worth it?  I honestly don’t know sometimes, but disciples are made by…

 

We have nine older people at our hospital, blind from cataracts, ready to travel via our (previously stuck) ambulance, purchased by our beautiful home church in Ohio, VCDC, to our colleague, 83y/o Steve Collins, who is surgically repairing cataracts three hours away.  He came down with severe conjunctivitis, because he touches those with disease, and is unable to operate.  They will likely be unable to receive their surgeries until a later date.  We will love and support them until we can get them help…

 

Back to missionary newsletters.  Our work is not the work of flowery newsletters and large gatherings of people “getting saved”.  It’s a work of imperfect caring, and faith that (imperfect) caring has value beyond what is seen.  Sometimes I have such faith and sometimes I don’t…

 

My Father knows…

 

I’m not cut out for this. No one is.  Yet He calls us, as weak and broken vessels, filled with His compassion for those hurting and confused, to “go”, sweat, embrace and serve, for their benefit… because He loves each and every one… and He is building a house for each of them in His Kingdom, where, one day, there will be no pain, no private tears, no CoVid, no mud, no floods, no epiglottitis, no pus, no cataracts, no fistulas…

 

2 comments

  1. Tim and Betsy! May God bless you both with physical healing, spiritual renewal, mental strength and financial blessings! What you do in Angola is such a treasure and very inspiring, thought provoking and challenging. God sees it all and will richly reward you!

  2. Tim, Betsy. Thank you so much for sharing the ups and downs of life and ministry in Angola. We love you, appreciate you, and pray for you, your teammates, and the people of Angola.

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