Reborn, Flies, Their, Fires, Credibility, Risk…

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Except for a couple lighter days last week, we’ve had increased volume lately and many success stories in Cavango, and we are outside of malaria season!  I would love to share them all, but I am already quite brevity-challenged, as you know. I’ll highlight two:

A beautiful 52y/o woman with AIDS and TB, Catrina (photo) arrived last week from a distant city in shock. She couldn’t walk or speak, and was near death. Her presentation isn’t so unusual, but her response is worth telling.  After some pretty simple treatments, two days later Catrina was out of bed, walking, eating, constantly smiling and grateful to be alive.  She enthusiastically participates in our talks about Jesus every morning and is a constant, encouraging presence to all of our patients, wandering and sitting among them, asking about them and caring for them. She will be with us for two months of TB treatment and Catrina doesn’t know the bible but told me she feels like she’s been “given new life and born all over again”  – her words!

Another woman, 42y/o Alice, arrived in severe liver failure from an all-natural, herbs, plants, and roots “remedy”, given to her for a minor illness by a local “medicine man”.  After many weeks (!) of no response, much trust and patience (and suffering – we drained several liters of fluid from her abdomen six times), her liver responded this week and Alice is going home!  She returned an hour after her discharge carrying a beautiful rooster, which she shyly presented to me as a gift (photo) for our efforts, giving praise to God and verbalizing that God saved her to serve others and to love Him.  The Wind…

CV19 is now escalating in Angola… We gathered with patients and their families and with our staff (photos) to discuss what has been “out there” for eight months and is now among us, and led them in discussions as to a healthy, Jesus-centered perspective/response. Eight patients returned from CEML in Lubango last week (where the city hospitals are overwhelmed with CV19, with no ventilators and few supplies/meds).  They were all surgically cured from severe, life-threatening, non-CV19 illnesses, but were also likely exposed to CV19 while hospitalized.  We instructed them that they could take the virus to their communities and shared how they can prevent transmission without fear.  Nine more arrive from Lubango today.  We also saw so many this week who sought our help in fighting their own battles against malaria, malnutrition, TB, etc… daily life-threats here exponentially worse than CV19..

It is Spring in rural Angola, with everything turning green, beautiful buds on the trees, flowers and leaves of all colors… and flies.  The flies are hungry, aggressive and beyond counting.  I’ve inhaled several during my morning runs as they attack moist areas, especially on the face.  They are crazy organized, multi-colored, and they have guards posted over open areas, like the path on which I run, and when I violate the territory of the guard, I’m attacked by a “troop” of dozens.  They are infuriating and relentless all day and everywhere, especially in the sun…

If we follow Jesus, what is more important than our prosperity, our comfort, our health, our doctrine, our church, our politics, our rest, our security, our peace, our joy, and even our life and our salvation?

Their prosperity, their comfort, their health, their doctrine, their church, their politics, their rest, their security, their peace, their joy, their life and their salvation…

We work full-time and more for “our”… while… for “their” and “them”…  we pray.  I’m afraid that we often dishonor the One we follow by asking Him to do what He has clearly modeled and asked us to do – serve them, love them, feed them, encourage them, embrace them, heal them, come alongside them, sweat with them and do whatever we can to help them bear and/or overcome their overwhelming burdens and rebuild their lives.  When people abandon their own lives to follow Jesus, others benefit.

If we might think that rural Africans are somehow different than we are, two young women broke down in tears last week when I told them that they were miscarrying…

The property on which we work and live was purchased for a song by missionaries during the lengthy civil war and given freely to the denomination which now has ownership.  They have done nothing with the 15,000 acres and have provided little support for our work over our eight years here.  They do nothing to manage the land (we need a Jesus/people-lover interested in land management to lead this effort) and the local people scorch and burn the land every year during the dry season (now), for no reason.  It’s so sad. We’ve been sharing with them all of these years what a crazy resource they have been given, entreating them to allow the plants and animals to inhabit the land and flourish, to no avail.  The local people have no gratitude or concern for the environment in which they live and no respect for the land on which they are essentially squatters.

Even a little gratitude would encourage responsible care for what God has so graciously and freely given them.  The people of the “developed world” are no different.  God created such inexplicable complexity, granted us the intelligence to appreciate, learn and explore its depths, and left marks of His common design throughout, yet we embrace the incredible fable/fantasy that this extravagantly complex world came from nothing (!), and “evolved” completely by chance (!) and with no intelligent direction (!). The people here give origins no thought, while we in the west ignore the obvious.

A fifth grade science class, holding an acorn under a sprawling, mature oak tree, cuddling a newborn, kitten or puppy, a few minutes watching a bird feeder, gazing at the star-filled expanse, observing the flies mentioned above, and seeing/moving one’s finger without thought reveals enough wonder to provoke an open, rational, unbiased mind to bow and worship the Creator!  Historically, mankind has consistently ignored our Father’s admonition to care for His astounding creation as we use, abuse, disregard and destroy the creation miracles He has placed all around us (which, in all our inflated 2020 knowledge, we cannot even begin to reproduce).  The people of the Cavango region are a microcosm of the world at large, using, abusing, taking for granted and destroying human beings and the crazy-spectacular environment in which we have been so lovingly placed…

A sad, common, beautiful story…  Domingas visited us from a large city, about five hours away on the back of a motorbike.  She is 65y/o and had gone to the large city hospital because of generalized weakness and severe, unrelenting headaches which had developed over a period of months.  She was put in the hospital for 25 days and treated repeatedly for her “resistant” malaria.  She received over 60 injections and lost track after that.  She said they told her that her malaria “never cleared” because her symptoms persisted and her repeated lab reports continued to state “malaria-positive”.  The hospital used a microscope to diagnose the malaria and this method is technician-dependent and over-calling is common.  She left and ventured to Cavango.  She was misdiagnosed the whole time, suffering from diabetes and hypertension, as her glucose and blood pressure were off the charts, and neither illness had been investigated.  The results of the isolation and ignorance of over thirty years of war…

We made the diagnoses in five minutes with simple questioning and an exam, thanked our Father for the tools He has put in our belt (experience and knowledge), for His concern for her, for leading her to us, etc and she improved dramatically in only a couple days and went home symptom-free.

If you might be tempted to consider this woman’s healing anything other than “miraculous”, consider the following that our humble Father (takes no credit) aligned for her survival:

  • all of the people from around the world over many years who worked to develop and communicate knowledge of the harm caused by diabetes and hypertension;
  • all of those from all over the world through many years who were involved in the development of our diagnostic instruments for diabetes and blood pressure;
  • all those from all over the world through many years involved in the discovery, development and dispensing of her imported (Indian) medication, without which she would have died;
  • all of you who support this work, allowing us to be in Cavango, working in Jesus’ name and with some “tools in our belt”;
  • our Father and all of the people and experiences from all over the world that have pushed Betsy and me to Cavango;
  • all of the previous missionaries from around the world, with all of the local people, who have established a serving work in Angola;
  • those from all around the world over many years who invented and perfected motorbikes so that she could travel such a distance (the main transportation for these rural people is still by foot) to see someone from the other side of the world with the knowledge and experience to help her;
  • those who built both the asphalt and dirt roads on which she traveled;
  • all of the people from all over the world through many years who have influenced and prepared me to work in medicine and move to Cavango;
  • all those involved in the success and reputation of Cavango to attract her here, and on and on.

The fact that she is alive is quite a God-ordained miracle, for those with eyes to see…

I was asked this week if I would leave Angola because of the escalation of CoVid cases here and my risk factors of being older than sixty with heart disease and asthma.  I thought of Paul in his second letter to Corinth and some of what he faced as he continually pushed into hardship and conflict because of his expressed “concern” for the people in that early church (a gathering/group of Jesus-lovers with no building, “bible”, musical instruments, microphones, etc).  Paul “boasted” of his untoward experiences to those to whom he was writing, to establish his credibility, as a Jesus-follower and leader worthy of following and support. He spoke of beatings, apprehension by authorities, painful travel conditions (shipwrecks), life-threats, illnesses, loss of sleep and food, abandonment of his previous and respected life-status, etc.

As I thought of Paul, I thought back on what we have faced in our missionary journey, and will share with you some of our experiences to help build your confidence in the work you support through us among the rural Angolan people.  Prioritizing credibility is wise when we consider who we follow, to whom we listen, and with which “charities” we partner through our God-given and hard-earned resources.

After several heart angioplasties and stent placements nine years ago, I was directly and emphatically told by several concerned cardiologist colleagues that I would be a fool to serve in rural Africa with such a condition.  When we moved to Amazon Brazil in 2005, I was told by no less than two dozen, well-meaning and sincere people that I was sacrificing my kids’ childhoods to take them away from the US to an “uncivilized”, impoverished, foreign culture.  I responded that they would still have childhoods, but outside of the “palace”, which would have both advantages and disadvantages, benefits and risks.  My kids will someday look back and testify as to the soundness of my decision…

I have survived malaria more than fifteen times in Angola, including one time acquiring ARDS and ending up emergently spending a week in an ICU in South Africa.  I was “awarded” more heart procedures and stents during the same visit…  I’ve survived a mauling by a rabid dog, followed by three sets of rabies vaccines (we have rabies come through our area twice yearly).  We’ve moved eight times since leaving the US, I killed 31 rats in one night in one of our houses and a ceiling collapsed in another, where we discovered more than twelve inches of bat guano as the cause.  I’ve endured driving an HIV-contaminated needle into my palm, multiple robberies and car crashes (the biggest killer of foreigners in Africa) and I’ve struck with my car virtually every type of animal, domestic and wild, without injury (to me).  I’ve lost hours stuck in mucky off-roads more times than I can count – mud-covered, sweaty and digging out with sticks – repaired/changed dozens of flat tires, and “weathered” multiple car breakdowns in the middle of “the bush”.

I’ve acquired TB and received treatment.  I’ve seen my son fall off of a boat and drift away into crocodile-infested white water.  Sleeplessness on the ground or old, worn, sticky and stained mattresses without sheets/blankets, stifling heat, mosquitoes, flies and crazy-awful travel – check.  Vomiting and diarrhea from spoiled food, served to me by my well-meaning hosts, are often my companions during the long, lonely, stifling nights in the isolated, remote, desert areas we serve.

While treating patients in the open bush, I’ve been apprehended by police at gunpoint  and “held” for several hours in isolation under armed guard.  I’ve had numerous other confrontations with threatening, angry and armed “uniforms” in this “police state” while advocating for the people I serve and the neglect and abuse they suffer from authorities virtually every day.  Several times, an armed policeman has raised his machine gun and pointed it at my chest while telling me to be quiet (using more colorful language).  Sometimes I’ve obeyed, sometimes not.  Twice, helicopters full of armed troops have descended on a clinic in “the bush” where I was working to “catch me” in illegal activities (harvesting organs, mining gold/diamonds, etc)…  CoVid is nothing by comparison, though it certainly carries risk.

Missionary readers are smiling as they read the above, because these are historically common experiences among missionaries in impoverished and globally forgotten cultures.  These experiences occurred not because I’ve been trying to emulate Paul (I’ve yet to suffer prison, beatings or snake bites…), or because my Father wasn’t aware or “in control”, but they happened because my Father cares and sends us, as His chosen body/instruments/tools, to people who experience many of these same things regularly.  None of what I listed would be remarkable to a rural Angolan or to many other Jesus-followers throughout history.

As to the statements made to me by the cardiologists years ago, how many of the thousands of people served and/or introduced to Jesus over these fifteen years would consider “foolish” my decision to forsake their “reasonable” advice?  A Kingdom perspective espouses that 2, 10, 100, 1000 lives… have more value than a single life.  Sacrifice for its own sake is self-righteous, ugly and without value.  Sacrifice for the sake of another is Jesus-like and beautiful.  I admire and follow Him (often stumbling, falling, whining and resistant), and it’s such a privilege (though rarely easy) to follow in His steps, serving those forgotten, neglected and abused.  Jesus people have prioritized abandoning and sacrificing their lives for others for 2000+ years (I am in no way unique) and I long for the day when I will join them all in honoring and worshipping our Father, face-to-face, when He decides my work is finished, via CoVid or by another means.

I cite the above, not because my experiences deserve special notice but, like Paul, for you to know more intimately the work and workers you support, and to remind myself and you, that the lives and well-being of others are more important than our own.  My response to the CoVid threat was birthed many years ago, not by an auditory call, an “experience of His presence”, or a sensational Damascus Road encounter, but rather by a choice to follow Jesus and His words recorded for “those with ears to hear”.  Current threats neither encourage me to consider my life as more valuable than the lives of those I serve, nor create in me a desire to depart in order to lessen my own risk and abandon them

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It is only the cracked and broken pot that can shine light from within to those outside… – unknown

“He must increase; I must decrease”  – JTB

“My power is perfected in weakness…”  – Jesus

“Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, with persecution, with difficulties, insults and distresses for Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong…”  – Paul

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One comment

  1. Tim, don’t know what to say. So proud of you and Betzy service to God and the amazing people of Angola.

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