Raft, Burdens, Intervention, Virtues, Suspicion…

We constructed a simple raft, with four plastic barrels, some planks and a nice steel frame pieced together by Geraldo, a talented man in our village who can weld and work with steel, and put it in the Cubango River, home to many crocodiles and hippos, above some severe rapids, to allow people to cross this otherwise impassable, large and fast river (about 100m across).  From there, people can then continue about 3km by foot to our clinic.  Only when the water is quite low, for a couple months/year, can one cross over on the rocks in the rapids.

We devised a system of cables and pulleys to keep the raft secure in the strong current.  It was quite a morning last week when about twenty of us placed the raft in the water at dawn, after hauling it there the day before with the help of two cows and a cart.  No one here had ever seen a raft and they marveled when it stayed afloat and easily crossed the river holding about ten men without difficulty (photos). One of our beautiful friends/supporters financed this raft and, perhaps two more, when he learned of the various difficulties people had accessing our clinic and inquired as to how to help.  We have so many people serving these rural people with us from the other side of the world!

Bearing burdens…  We sent Bemvinda home this week, a beautiful 14y/o girl, who arrived in a coma several months ago with an overwhelming infection, which began as a small wound in her ankle and spread to her whole leg over several weeks.  She bore the pain and fever at home, until she slipped into a feverish coma and, only at that point, was she brought to our clinic by her family.  We drained several liters (!) of frank pus from Bemvinda’s leg and sent her, via our ever-available, servant MAF pilots, to our skilled colleagues in Lubango for definitive surgery, anticipating that she might not survive and would likely lose her leg.  She returned to us, however, again via our MAF colleagues, fully alive and with her leg intact.  She then endured about a month of daily, painful dressing changes… and walked home this week with her faithful Mom (who was with her all along), using crutches because of a likely permanently arthritic knee from the infection, but otherwise healed and able to live a normal life full of opportunities to get to know her loving Father.  I passed Bemvinda and her Mom on my morning run (photo) as they began their trek home. They would cross the river on our newly placed raft (she could never have crossed on the rocks in the rapids) and walk all day to arrive at their village.

A ten-year-old boy, Mario, arrived with a severely red, inflamed, and tearing eye.  When I asked how long he had endured this severe pain, I was amazed to learn that it had begun about six weeks prior.  He had a simple, small foreign body on his mid-cornea, over his pupil, which was easily removed with some anesthesia, magnification and a needle in about five minutes (photos).  It appeared that he had no permanent scarring and will recover completely.  Even though it took six weeks, his parents were uniquely wise to seek help.  So many people here become permanently blind because they “bear” a similarly simple eye injury, rather than seeking resolution of the same.  They do not think in terms of removing a physical offense or burden, as there are few solutions to such problems available.  A few years ago, I treated a teen who had broken his mid-forearm two years prior and it had “healed” at 90 degrees of normal. I wish I had taken a photo.  I see all kinds of deformities from fractures because these people “bear” the discomfort and deformity rather than seek resolution.  We had three displaced fractures just this week, which we aligned and casted and they will heal well.

Matilda is 65 and arrived with a limp and useless arm, which had occurred in a fall a year ago.  She had endured this useless and horribly painful arm, never considering seeking help until a fellow villager returned from our clinic with a healed broken leg.  Matilda had a dislocated shoulder which was surprisingly easy to put back into place after so long, though Matilda had to endure much pain in the process.  We drained a large amount of fluid from her shoulder and then she screamed for several minutes that she would die (it seemed like she could be heard for miles) as we maneuvered her humerus back into place, trying several techniques before succeeding.  She was immediately pain-free and gushed her gratitude daily for two weeks as we first immobilized her arm (photo) and then began her rehabilitation in our clinic before she went home in a simple sling to continue to recuperate and gain full use of her arm.  She also said, smiling, that she would make her husband pay dearly for causing her fall and for not bringing her to our clinic sooner.

Madalena, (photo) a 3y/o little girl, came to us about two months ago, frail and grossly thin from malnourishment and tuberculosis.  She gained weight with treatment and solid nutrition, but I saw her prior to her scheduled discharge and her father said that she hadn’t been able to walk for the past two weeks.  She is one of an average of about thirty-five revolving TB patients who receive their first two months of treatment at our hospital and her father had neglected to see us weekly as instructed and to mention this change in her condition.  Her tuberculosis had invaded her spine and caused flaccid paralysis of both legs.  We immediately began some strong anti-inflammatory medication, hoping that her leg strength will return with time, as it often does.  As I write,  it’s been a week and she is taking some steps.  That her father never mentioned her loss of ability to walk highlights that resolution of symptoms is not considered but bearing what “fate” brings is the way to respond to illness and injury.

Thinking about burden-bearing…  When you live in a very small world, with no literature from, or communication with, the outside world, and you only hear, periodically, highly propagandized news on a transistor radio, and have no technology or education (most of our patients can’t read or speak Portuguese), the greatest virtues in the culture become perseverance, patience and those that encourage bearing a burden.  Only over generations have we, in the developed world, learned that our humble Father invites us to partner with Him to intervene in the world in order to improve our health and nutrition and reduce suffering.  The people here have had no such learning or experience and in the psyche of the local rural Angolan, absent is analysis and constructive criticism for the purpose of improvement.  “What will be, will be.” 

– 

It is not considered attractive, worthwhile or possible to try to improve one’s situation or lighten one’s burden, but it is rather seen as admirable to bear well one’s unpleasant circumstances.  This prioritization has developed over generations as a means of self-preservation and serves these people well, as they know contentment in the midst of difficulty, but little ever changes.  

An example of this non-intervention approach to life is seen at deliveries.  At the first few births I witnessed in our hospital, whether a baby was born well or not breathing, it was held in the birth-attendant’s hand and observed, to see if it would breathe/respond.  There was no thought as to intervening.  If it breathed/cried and lived, so be it and, if not, so be it.  There was never a thought as to doing something to improve the ability of the baby to survive.  This is a common approach to childbirth in the uneducated and undeveloped world, as it is estimated that about one million babies die annually when all they need to survive is agitation, drying, proper positioning and perhaps help with the first couple of breaths.  The folks here were aghast when I taught them to dry the baby roughly to agitate it to encourage crying and breathing, or to actually resuscitate it. The clinic workers have since witnessed dozens of newborn resuscitations in babies that otherwise would have died (generations impacted).  The woman pictured gave birth to twins, one of which would not have survived at the culturally normal home delivery, but she was with us because of severe pre-eclampsia and the first-delivered twin survived because of some rough and simple resuscitation.  What happens “naturally” is of “fate” and one doesn’t interfere with fate (they are highly superstitious).  There is also little thought as to taking responsibility for destructive behavior.  Circumstances “happen” to them… 

Other adaptations occur in the psyche of impoverished man to bear one’s lot, such as the following: People here actually prefer the same food at every meal rather than preferring a variety of tastes and textures.  They prefer  wearing the same clothes and prefer doing the same, familiar, work every day.  Change is not embraced and voluntarily taking on risk or change is considered foolish, as they have no examples from which to learn in order to minimize risk.  Crab mentality dominates (google “crabs in a bucket”) and few people step out from the community to challenge the status quo. Individual thinking is discouraged and this produces a beautiful sense of community, but with little change/improvement.  In modern cultures, we have the incredible privilege of being able to learn from the past and embrace that behavior which is healthy and avoid that which has been shown destructive… 

The changes that have occurred over the past 2000 years in the developed world are remarkable to behold when one steps “back in time” to a place like Cavango.  These people are every bit as intelligent as any in the world, but their exposure to what is learned elsewhere is severely limited.  What qualities have been developed in the world to accommodate positive change?  It is worthy of study and meditation…

Truth-telling, self-sacrifice, risk-taking, learning from those who have gone before us (in the written word), circumstantial intervention, critical thinking, etc are commonly admired in the west and not in the ancient tribal cultures in which we live. Truth-telling, for example, opened doors to scientific exploration and development.  There is no development in Angola because this virtue isn’t valued and no one’s words can be believed.  This causes mistrust and scientific study recorded in Angola would not be accurate or trusted. In rural African culture, few tell the truth, but what is shared is expedient and beneficial in the moment.  Contrast this to many generations in the west who have valued truth-telling and scientifically reproducible results.  Interestingly, as the modern world leaves Jesus’ teachings behind, truth-telling and trust are becoming less prominent virtues, and we find ourselves hearing more voices than ever, and believing no one. 

I so love our morning talks with 50-200 adults, where we can bring the knowledge gained around the world over the past generations to the rural people of the Cavango region.  We share information gleaned elsewhere about improving our spiritual and physical health.  There is so much hunger to learn, and we begin by sharing about who Jesus is from our Father’s well-preserved letters to us, and His ever-present invitation to participate in His Kingdom.  This is followed by how we can address health concerns at home and when it is wise to seek help and we share about how evidence-based medicine (truth-based and reproducible health care) can be beneficial.  

Those of you who support this work are responsible for all information that passes to these beautiful people during these 30-60 minute, daily sessions.  In our seven-plus-year history in Cavango, you and I have given over 2,000  morning talks to patients and their families about how to improve their spiritual and physical health. In these small group discussions, more than 150,000  people have heard of the truth of Jesus’ affection for them and you and I have enthusiastically invited each of them to daily live united with Him, quite apart from any religion.  We share the most basic information with them and, yet, almost daily, someone speaks at the end of my talk, sharing how they have never in their lives encountered such instruction.  You and I have embraced, listened to, prayed for, and treated (with evidence-based “mud and spit” – Jn 9) about 30,000  people in individual consultations, few of which would have received any care other than the local shaman’s roots and herbs (placebo) without you placing us here …

Please remember that the reason I write these blog posts, and share stories and photos on FB, is to keep those of you who support this work updated as to what you are supporting and who you are serving/helping, and to encourage you in the beautiful work of which we are all a part.

We’ve had no further suspected cases of CV19 beyond the two (likely) that I mentioned previously.  We are grateful and remain vigilant.  The staff has been wise in taking precautions and the fact that these people live almost entirely outside and in well-ventilated areas helps greatly in limiting spread of this airborne disease.

I’ve written about the antagonism we face from governmental authorities in our work here, as we operate under suspicion that we are here for hidden, personal gain and that our medical and Kingdom work is a front for our real purpose for living in Cavango, yet undiscovered.  We put the very simple raft in the river, hooked up the cables, tested it and, less than 12hr later, two cars full of military personnel arrived quietly, in the dark, and camped, hidden, near the airstrip and raft.  I found them, unexpectedly, on my run at dawn, when a man approached me with a machine gun (not pointed at me).  When I asked, he said they were simply camping (with machine guns) “for fun” (photo).  Smile. In our seven years here, not once have Angolans come to Cavango to “camp”.  Then they discovered a flat tire and stopped at our house for help (!) and Betsy kindly filled their tire (I was at the clinic) and they left.  They had arrived about 7p and then left about 8a – a relaxing camping trip!

It is truly amazing how suspicious those corrupt and in power can be of someone who is not, especially if those under suspicion appear to be gathering a following.  I now understand much more clearly the motive behind the killings of Jesus-followers in the early church and since.  It is simply impossible for those who disregard and/or hate our Father and His ways, who live in a state of deception and self-service, to appreciate the purity, beauty and other-focus of His Kingdom.  They label as evil that which is suspicious and unfamiliar to them.  As we are seeing in the US, on both sides of the political spectrum, we allow ourselves great moral latitude in seeking to eliminate that which we consider “evil”, while Jesus said that His followers would love their enemies, abandon personal ambition, forsake material gain, and live without ulterior/hidden/selfish motives…  This is so rarely demonstrated today, both inside and outside of “the church”, that it is impossible for many to believe that it can be genuine…

2 comments

  1. Thanks Tim! And thanks for always taking such great time to keep us all posted on what’s going on there. You guys are doing amazing work, thru the power and strength of the Holy Spirit. I pray that we will be able to continue supporting your work for time to come. I love you! ❤️

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