Return, Owls, Good News, Dispensers, Love/Hate…

 

Betsy and I return today to Cavango after a month of meetings and rest. We are “ready” to dive back in, but not ready for the grueling drive. I think we are carrying more than ever, as we have paint for the clinic, which is in pretty poor repair.

 

My new favorite bird is the owl. We have several kinds around Cavango, identified by their different night calls. I only ever see them in dawn or dusk glimpses, but hear them all around each early morning. My glimpses of them are too brief and I savor every time I actually see one perched. There are several “calling me” this predawn at my place of retreat, outside of Lubango, as I write. They are such wonders from the hand of a beyond-imagination-crazy-awe-inspiring Designer…

 

CoVid… While I was in Lubango, one recent Friday night, my colleague working in Cavango requested an urgent transport flight via MAF to our CEML colleagues in Lubango for life-saving surgery. Angola, a country of 30 million people and about 60 CoVid deaths, has exercised complete lockdown laws over virtually all activity (not wearing a mask in public costs a fine of a week’s wage for a laborer), even though there are NO cases outside of the capital city! Because of the lockdown, MAF must now send a request for every flight to the country’s capital and cannot fly  until written permission is returned. This young woman, with an accurately diagnosed illness, remediable with urgent surgery (fatal if surgery is delayed), with MAF ready and willing to provide immediate transport to surgeons available to do the surgery… died Monday morning before permission to fly was granted (though the urgency was communicated Friday), where there might be a handful of flights/day in the whole country.

 

We are coming out of several months of much conflict and confrontation, from virtually every side. From the several governmental authorities over us, from our clinic colleagues, from the church which owns our mission, and others. All required many meetings, much wrestling, discerning prayer and forethought re healthy resolutions, and necessary confrontations. Conflict is exhausting… and necessary… because of healthy differences, our own flawed-ness, the flawed-ness of others and the ever-ongoing battle of darkness and light, within and without. Conflict is necessary and how we handle it can be healthy and edifying or unhealthy and destructive. Jesus provided our example, as we are to embrace and meet conflict directly, with all of its exhausting vulnerability, even prioritizing its resolution over worship (Mt 5). As in history, when Jesus-lovers are faced with conflict, the cream rises, and we are returning to Cavango with most of the conflict resolved and with more support and enthusiasm than ever about our work…

 

Jesus left His prosperous home and position and entered the conflict  of darkness and light. He cried, He fasted, He sweat blood, He slept little, He spent His days serving the sick, the captive, the confused, the hungry. His daily motivation, in every conflict, verbalized at least once, was “Your will, not mine.”

 

On the (very) bright side… we have a beautiful medical couple interested in joining us in Cavango. Also, one of the MAF pilots from the Netherlands, Marijn, and his family would like to bring a small plane to Cavango and use our dirt airstrip, if we ever get permission to complete it. It’s been five years since the government suspended the work on the airstrip because of incomplete documents and our denomination hasn’t yet completed the paper work. They are committed to, soon. Our construction of a new, simple hospital building that will have lab and x-ray is underway and going well. We hope to complete it by the end of 2021 and it will allow us to improve our service with more accurate diagnostics. Our current hospital will become dedicated to TB, as our 36 TB beds are rarely enough. Our mission, SIM is extremely supportive of our work and will help Betsy and me construct a small house in Cavango so our new couple, Eduardo and Jocelyn de Souza, with their four kids, can live in our current house. AGA, a passionate group of supporters from all over the US is set to send over three containers of construction and medical supplies and hopes to send a team of 13 to help with construction, when the CoVid panic passes. Hand of Hope, a branch of Joyce Meyer Ministries, is largely supporting the construction of the above hospital building… So many benefit…

 

After emphasizing to our workers for 7yr that we are mud and spit in Jesus’ hands and we are completely dependent on Him for healing, I walked into our Emergency Room (single, small room) last month and found one of our nurses with his hands on the abdomen of a comatose child, with no one else present, praying…

 

A beautiful, mute woman, about 60-years-old, arrived a year ago with a complete uterine prolapse which she had endured for 3yr. This means that she was living with much of her uterus protruding from her vagina. Her tissue was excoriated and raw. We treated her with antibiotics and Vaseline for her uterine wounds and I returned from the US in October with pessaries, purchased with your contributions, which are small rings inserted into the vaginal cavity to keep the uterus from falling out. She was full of gratitude when she returned several months ago because of how the Vaseline had reduced her pain and irritation. We fitted her for a pessary and she left. Last month she returned and must have bowed and shaken my hand a dozen times, tearfully expressing her gratitude for “resolving her problem”. Some people make it all worth it!

 

Betsy and I were awakened last month to the predawn, wailing cries in our village. Another premature death, of a 10-year-old boy of one of our nurses, and Jesus hears the cries of the family, parents, friends. As He did with Lazarus and his family, He weeps with them, and He calls His own  to respond similarly.  All of God’s commands to His people are essentially “Be as I am”  because “I am good”, “I am love”, “I am just”, “I came to serve”… We are given much to give much, as Jesus did. We are to live with as much as Jesus did, and give the rest to those without. We are dispensers of His kindness, His service, His wealth. As He kept nothing for Himself, nothing  we are given is just for us. All that we have is given to us for the benefit of someone else.

 

Our calling is to find where to dispense what we have been given, but we rather ask IF we have been called to give our lives away… It’s not a matter of whether we are called!  It’s rather which area of darkness are we to infiltrate with Light?  We have Light, we’ve been given abilities, we have the Spirit of our Father to uphold us, to strengthen us, to hear us, and to wipe our tears and we can leave our bushels and follow Him into the darkness… He is so worthy of our lives!  Where is the cry in the church today of “Here I am, send me”?   Where is the preaching of “Go into all the world…”?

 

Rather, I have heard many times, directly and indirectly, that our work here isn’t “real” mission work and has little significant kingdom value because we don’t “plant churches”. “The greatest in the Kingdom…”, “Make disciples”, “When you serve the least of these…”, “When I was hungry…”, “a cup of cold water…”, “The good Samaritan…” While loving people and making disciples, Jesus chose to give much of His brief time on this earth to physically heal so many hurting… Crazy…

 

I wonder… if I were a leper (we all are) and an aged woman embraced me daily on my cot, and touched my raw and bleeding wounds and dressed them in calming ointment, listened to my fears, prayed for/with me, cried and smiled with me… and a confident, young preacher came and “taught” me truth from a nearby bench and invited me to his dynamic and life-changing “church” services… to whom would I listen?   Which is more like the One they each claim to follow?

 

Pastors and church leaders plant more and more churches within the palace walls, dividing over theology, traditions, music, holidays, gifts, methods and rituals, while preaching how to pursue/achieve personal happiness. But… Jesus is outside, calling us to abandonment to Him, to “consider others more important than ourselves”, and to join Him in the darkness outside the palace.

 

I think I’ve read about every book ever written about Mother Teresa, a woman who demonstrated love, for the Calcutta slums forgotten, for about 60 years and is now serving in the presence of her King. I’ve read any/all biographies and autobiographies of missionaries and/or of people anywhere who minister to the poor, naked, hungry, etc, only because Jesus said this would be an identifying marker of His sheep. I typically don’t read books by preachers and teachers (words), but rather I seek to learn from do-ers and servants (who also speak/write), because Jesus said the greatest “sheep” in His pasture would be not the ones with pretty words, but those who served…

 

Followers of Jesus are meant to live in the same prosperity as the One we follow… We claim to follow One who had no home  while we create castles that devour most of our earnings and effort. We seek and pray for heaven on earth  instead of seeking out the hungry, naked and captive. Those who know Jesus know the Light and light dispels darkness, if moved to the darkness.  But real darkness is cold, lonely and difficult because there is no light or heat and, therefore, all light and warmth must come from Jesus within. The palace (US) has problems which cause pain. Outside the palace, however, where the darkness is complete, the far more numerous and desperate cries are unheard. Our bushels block both sound and light.

 

Jesus spoke of sitting on His throne in comfort and prosperity when His work was completed.  It is the same for each who claims to follow Him. To try to create heaven on earth (an easier and pain-free life) is to completely miss Jesus’ purpose for the lives of His followers. We have a hope that is beyond this world and we will live with Him and experience rest in His pain-free embrace one day but, prior to heaven, we must leave the palace, or sacrificially send others, for the sake of those He loves who are hurting. We live to, one day soon, hear the words, “Enter your rest”, “My good and faithful servant”.  

Peter, Paul, Stephen, Mother Teresa and many others, humbly unknown, are likely now pleased that, for a few short years, they sacrificed chasing personal mountaintop experiences for the sweaty and lonely valleys, as they now dwell on the heights with their King, surrounded by all those once embraced when hurting…

 

When Jesus was asked, “Who is my neighbor?”, he didn’t respond with “those in your neighborhood” or “those in your community”. He responded with a story about two strangers, nowhere near their homes/neighborhoods/communities…

 

I listened to a message a few months ago by a young, confident US pastor, with experience in neither embracing the sick and dying, nor in cross-cultural missions among the unreached and impoverished, talk on prayer and say we should be honest with God but expressing our emotions to God using four letter words was inappropriate. I’ve heard this before and completely disagree. My Father knows me, in my deepest, weakest and ugliest places, and the syllables of my language have little relevance!  Honest expression (no matter how many letters) with those who we know love us is… transparent… and healing.  When we live in the palace, manners become important. When we are on the battlefield, manners becomes quite secondary to qualities such as honesty, sweat, loyalty, devotion, courage, transparency and intimacy (closeness). Nothing is more life giving than connecting honestly with the One who cherishes us more than any other, who knows our hearts apart from all words, and whose connection with us is transforming. When facing daily darkness, pain and unpleasantness, it is only this real and, sometimes verbally messy, unburdening with my Father that pushes me back to the clinic for one more day of embracing those encountering such needless suffering…

 

Following Jesus is not as much about what we say, but about what we do.  Cart and horse… Love is a verb, not empty promises, good intentions, beautiful church services (to feel better, in the US we call them “worship services” and in Angola, these services are performed in a building that is still referred to as the “temple”). There is so much talk, yet Jesus followers are few. Lovers of God and lovers of men, who truly prioritize  both over self, are few. They are few who hunger and thirst after righteousness/justice and wrestle to walk in both  grace and truth. They are few who seek health and the common good rather than pursue ease, self-gratification, self-promotion and self-defense. They are few willing to live life beneath the surface, explore deeper meaning and the unseen, admire natural beauty in wonder, write poetry… They are few willing to go to where there is pain, and weep and mourn in the middle of it all. The humble and meek are few. Those who trust and revere God are few. Jesus followers are few…

 

The evangelical, salvation movement has been largely about “me”, the opposite of Jesus’ emphasis of self-abandonment and surrender to Him. Eternal life is the fruit of an other-focused relationship with Jesus, NOT the goal! Such preoccupation with me, my joy, my growth, my holiness or my salvation is ubiquitous in churches bearing His name, but is not of Jesus…

 

Sometimes I wrestle with what to write. All success stories and cute pictures? It would be easy to do. This doesn’t seem, however, to be my Father’s method in His letters to us, written with such care. He communicates to us realities both seen and unseen, in raw, brutally honest and revealing stories and statements, in long chapters and short, with encouragement and challenge. He reveals Himself  to the reader/listener… and I try to do the same. He reveals what He loves – that which gives life, and what He hates – that which destroys life. Love provokes hate, not for people, but for that which destroys or neglects those whom one loves.

 

I serve as part of His army against hate/neglect/abuse directed at people, but I often again find myself alone in a dark foxhole, facing another confrontation, surrounded by criticism, holding a dead baby, and consoling parents while abandoned by “brothers” otherwise preoccupied… There are many “Christians” who picnic, ”worship” and preach to the choir in “temples” on the palace hillside while the battle rages in the valley. This vulnerability in the valley is countered by a radical gratitude for my Father’s presence, His expressed pleasure in so many ways, and for those of you who send us. 

 

I’m so grateful for those of you who sacrificially support our work, and other works like it, because you are concerned about those hurting outside the palace. We can take our light to those outside the palace and we can send light, as well, to those in the darkness, as many of you do by sending us here to serve with your sacrificial giving. You manufacture and lower life boats into the sea carrying the people who will row out to those drowning. You are the candle-makers (tent-makers) for those of us who carry the light to the outer reaches of darkness, while you also spread the Light to those near you…

 

But, I’m tired… of crying, of screaming out to my Father, sometimes using unmannerly expressions, of sleepless nights… because of the pain, grief, injustice, and disproportionate poverty of beautiful, forgotten people  whose lives are cut short because of malnutrition and of lack of access to basic care, goods and love, because one must be theologically-trained and/ or a “church planter” to leave the palace and humbly, simply serve whomever, wherever, however…

 

Luke records Jesus saying the most curious thing in Lk 17, that if our life is the focus of our time and effort, we will lose it, and if we focus outside of ourselves, we will find life. He said that before the tragedies of Lot and Noah, people were enamored with this life, buying, selling, seeking good times and He indicated that His followers would be different,  consumed with following their Master and serving the naked, hungry and hurting…

 

We were made with purpose and for purpose. When we don’t intentionally choose to find our purpose in following Jesus and His ways, we will scratch that itch another way. We were made to worship and if we don’t worship our Maker, we will worship another. We are wired with faith and if we don’t place our faith and trust in Jesus, we will place it elsewhere, most often in chance, wealth or other human beings. We were made to follow and if we don’t follow Jesus, we will follow another.

 

Pursuing our dreams is not of our Father. He calls us to surrender them. Forsaking our dreams, however, is NOT forsaking life. It is, in fact, in surrendering our dreams to our Father that we find the life for which He created us, and… others… will benefit…

 

If you are struggling with feeling insignificant, please remember that your Father wants to use you in EVERY little, benign interaction today, just as you are, wherever you are, to encourage, to speak grace, to embrace, to value, to honor… You don’t have to, but you GET to play a small role in someone’s story of redemption/transformation/rescue/hope…

 

2 comments

  1. Thank you, Tim! Just a quick note about owls: a couple of weeks ago we spotted a family of three Eastern Screech owls in our sugar maple tree. Absolutely amazing to see them. The robins were not impressed and were dive-bombing them! We have since seen them two evenings. You are blessed with owls at Cavango! I had no idea…your work brings both smiles and tears to me and lots of challenges to my thinking! Blessings, Peggy

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