Manuel, CV, Success, Conflict, World Views, Dr Hodges…

Beautiful, little Manuel (last post) has now had three cycles of therapy, one mild and two heavy and he is doing well, though it has been a rough run.  He needs at least two more cycles.  Please continue to pray for Manuel and his beautiful father, who never leaves his side.

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Betsy and I have recovered from Covid, though I am battling some resistant asthma and Betsy, enduring fatigue…  But we are both working and able to do about all we would like to.  We are grateful!

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The rest of this post may be titled, “What missionaries don’t usually write/talk about.”  I’m looking at a blank page but know what’s on my mind.  I’ve been told many times that I write offensively, inappropriately, too directly, too much, too often and that I’m too challenging and too negative…  We’ll see what form this takes…

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A.W. Tozer, a man whose writings have helped shape my perspective, said, “People think of the world not as a battleground, but as a playground. We are not here to fight; we are here to frolic. . .The ‘worship’ growing out of such a view itself has become a sort of sanctified nightclub without champagne.”

William Carey, a long-term missionary to India and a man whose life has helped shape some of my perspectives said, “I’m not afraid of failure. I’m afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.”

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What would one expect when meeting with a group of soldiers in the midst of a battle?  Singing, celebration, laughter, tranquility, and a relaxed atmosphere?  Or, perhaps, fatigue, frustration, tears, trepidation, apprehension, communicated support, honest and sober encouragement, empathy, planning, vision-casting and strategizing and serious comradery?

Of what does the “battle” consist?  Conflict!  Light and dark, resistance, confrontation, pain, overcoming and loss, progress and failure…

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Lately in Cavango, we have faced a great deal of conflict.  The daily battle against debilitating disease, certainly, along with loss, frustration, confrontation, unmet expectations…

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I just returned from the hospital and it is 1a.  We have four generators that we commonly use at our hospital on an as-needed basis, usually for our two oxygen concentrators (I’m in the process of ordering a third).  We have both concentrators running currently and our fourth generator stopped working to join the other three on the sidelines, the reason for my trip in.  Three excellent generators that likely need just a bit of know-how, which I don’t have.  A dear friend is emailing me and helping solve the issues with one generator.  One 50-something-year-old woman has severe pneumonia/TB and her oxygen level is 60% (normal > 93%) and a baby has pneumonia and is breathing at > 60 breaths/minute and has an oxygen level in the mid-80s. 

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I’ve invested in one man for eight years and he has learned so much and has so many strengths, but last week he twice almost killed kids by treating them recklessly and without seeking my help.  A little bit of knowledge can be dangerous, as knowledge without wisdom/perspective/experience creates arrogance that takes ignorant risks (in this case with the lives of kids)!  Then, while our numbers almost overwhelm us, he spent two mornings wandering the campus and conversing.  I walked in on one of this nurse’s debilitated patients and found him essentially covered in feces and urine, unseen because this worker and his colleagues covered him in a clean blanket!  Response – shoulder shrug.  He faced angry confrontation from me several times this week, consisting of long conversations and hard discussions about humility, lack of wisdom, concern for the kids, golden rules and work ethic…

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I visited our construction site one morning to offer encouragement and saw the majority of our workers sitting around and doing nothing.  They were confronted angrily and later I returned and met with all of them and reiterated our vision in Cavango and how what they are doing will serve many, as I shared about Jesus’ perspective on work and service. 

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The 15,000 acres that comprise the mission property has been burned to the ground again this year.  Angola is known as a country that foolishly burns its land every year in the dry season.  Complete destruction of its greatest resource, the land, resulting in severe erosion and death to all young trees and plants with wildlife absent for lack of cover.  I have taught for eight years about the value of the land that comprises the mission and how we can develop the same for the benefit of the people of the region, stewarding what our Father has given us and setting an example for the surrounding region.  When confronting the problem again this year, I met the same shoulder shrugs and excuses/blame.  They got both barrels!  Attitudes, perspectives, world views, darkness and light.  There are reasons that Angola remains in the same dire poverty that much of the rest of the world left behind in the 1900s (poverty in Angola is nothing like poverty in the US) and the individuals we serve are not to blame but, rather, the pride, bondage, superstition, and godless world-views that have been handed down for generations…

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Six years ago, we were asked if we might loan money to the community to buy a corn grinder, greatly useful in grinding corn to powder, which is then mixed with boiling water and is a staple part of their diet.  We readily agreed and saw this as an excellent way to serve with our personal finances, especially the women who otherwise grind the corn by hand – severe daily work.  We offered a specific manner in which they could reimburse us over five years. The grinder worked well for a year, broke down because of poor maintenance and hasn’t run since.  We were never reimbursed and no one is concerned.  Shoulder shrugs, followed by much confrontation!

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Our TB meds have become difficult to find and purchase.  The government exercises strict control of administration of meds and discourages “private” clinics from treating this disease outside of their knowledge and control.  But we haven’t received TB meds from the government for more than five years (despite multiple gracious and friendly confrontations and some not so kind and gracious) and are now treating 250+ TB patients privately at cost (about $10US/month) at any given time, some who began treatment at a government facility, only to have the meds run out.  Then they arrive here to complete their medication course, often after a long lapse in treatment that allowed their condition to significantly worsen, making resistance to medication more likely.  I spent five hours on Monday and Tuesday seeking meds.  I found some and hope they are legitimate…

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We (you) pay for all surgeries for those needing urgent surgery in Lubango and we tell each family that they only need to take food or money for food.  Almost all do so.  There are a few exceptions and I secretly give them enough money for food for two weeks (about $12US).  Sometimes one of our patients runs out of food while in Lubango and I arrange some food through one of our missionaries at CEML.  Word has spread and now every family arriving in Lubango from Cavango complains that they don’t have food and weren’t told that they needed food…  Each family that travels to Cavango for surgery commits to reimbursing us after, and about 10% of our expenses are reimbursed.  Many are unable, while many have the means to pay us back over time and don’t…

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The director of our immunization program carelessly allowed the propane, used to refrigerate our vaccines, to run dry.  If Eduardo hadn’t caught it, we’d have lost all of our vaccines.  If our director followed the well-established “pattern” in Angola, he would have allowed the vaccines to warm and continued to administer the impotent serum, providing no benefit to those receiving the vaccines.  Rural Angola has vaccines, but the “cold chain” is not carefully maintained and we see cases of tetanus, pertussis, measles, etc in those vaccinated…  He was confronted…

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Some missionaries and Christians think that anger and confrontation are inappropriate in ministry.  Was this Jesus’ model?  He and His followers often confronted injustice, laziness, irresponsibility and foolishness.  They weren’t martyred for preaching love and tolerance of all behavior!  They hated and confronted destructive behavior because they loved those they confronted!  And they suffered because of it.  We don’t respect, honor and love those in whom we tolerate/promote destructive behavior without confrontation.  The wise/hungry/humble accept correction, recognize error and change; the foolish not only tolerate and promote destructive behavior, but often mock and resist discipline and healthy restraint.

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Our respect, honor and love for someone is demonstrated by affirmation, service and encouragement and, also, by our willingness to confront destructive and unhealthy behavior.  These confrontations are exhausting, because much wisdom is required in how we confront unhealthy behavior as, confrontation, winning an argument or being “right” are not the desired ends but, rather, an embracing of that which is good and healthy.

Jesus is our example in confronting darkness with light and we must acknowledge, as we look on His words and experiences, that conflict and confrontation, though costly and never easy, are necessary and healthy.  Loving involves confrontation of what is unhealthy.  If we love someone, we must hate that which destroys him/her.  Our love is demonstrated in our courage to confront and in how we handle the conflict.  Whenever there is more than one person involved in making a decision, we will have disagreement and, therefore, conflict. We are called to love those with whom we disagree and this can involve unpleasant conflict, to which we can respond in a healthy or an unhealthy manner…

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In Cavango, conflict is the norm.  I face constant conflict of world views and attitudes and I must always remember the end and long-term effects of the confrontation and conflict.  What will be remembered more than the confrontation itself is how I handled the conflict.  I must always remember honor and respect in any conflict.  I sometimes err and dishonor an individual during a confrontation.  This honor can be restored via humility and apology, and I often reconcile with individuals privately following a confrontation in order to gently reiterate my perspective while restoring the honor of one I’ve offended.

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Discipleship is instruction in living and modeling, especially conflict resolution, which is a skill too often undervalued and not learned or modeled.  Darkness resists light because light exposes what is hidden, and we are called to be light and expose/confront, with humility and courage, that which is dark/destructive.

Discipleship was not a foreign concept in Jesus’ day.  Rabbis and their followers were the norm for a small percentage of the “chosen”.  These “followers” worked and lived with their rabbi and they were essentially taught how to live, via instruction and modeling.  Rabbis typically began their “school” at the age of thirty and young men applied to learn from chosen rabbis, based on the perceived quality of the rabbi.  Conversely, Jesus chose His disciples from non-applicants, those rejected by the rabbis of the day.  As far as we know, none of Jesus’ chosen twelve were involved with other rabbis.  This is still the case today, as He chooses simple, flawed, rejects and failures and calls them to follow Him and to… go, anywhere and wherever, to make more disciples. 

The rabbi and follower lived and worked together every day, disagreed, offended one another, reconciled and erred again…  Academic studies and “life” were learned together, through everyday events and encounters.  It was expected that the disciples embraced that which they witnessed in their “master”. The words of the rabbi were memorized and repeated often (and sometimes written, as with Matthew, Mark, Luke and John).  The rabbi’s perspectives were embraced, his actions imitated.  The rabbi was a counselor, a teacher, a model.  He taught them, demonstrated how to respond to life and conflict, confronted in them unhealthy attitudes, responses, habits…  and the disciples chose again, each and every day, to continue to follow him…

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We seek to make disciples of Jesus in Cavango, via teaching and example, as we live and work intimately with those we mentor/disciple/lead/serve.  Discipleship is like parenting, where more is “caught than taught”.  Are we “living with” those we disciple in such a way that they see how we handle disagreement and offense, where they see our strengths and our flaws, where they see our good responses and bad… or have we relegated discipleship to classes and bible studies where our “disciples” see only a small part of us and we remain largely and genuinely “unknown”?

Do we love those in darkness enough to “live with them” and confront destructive behavior?  Are we interacting with those in darkness or have we surrounded ourselves with “light” (not the “commission” of the One we claim to follow)?

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Discipleship is about going to those in darkness, confusion and pain and modeling and explaining why, more than academic or even “biblical” teaching.  It is not easy and requires devotion to the well-being of the follower.  We emphasize in Cavango that what we do is more important than anything we say, and “why” we do what we do is more important than what we do.  There is little more important in the Kingdom of God than credibility, as character is far more important than charisma, and character can only be “known” and appreciated in close relationships, over time.  Is this what we are modeling in our churches today?

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I have confronted the church leaders in Angola about the same and it has not been received well, as the Angolan “church” is much like the American church, where words and teaching are more important than sweaty service, where leaders’ are personally unknown, where leaders are put on pedestals and seen in pulpits and offices via one-hour appointments, and where the leaders’ charisma, humor, knowledge and ability to lead and “gather” are more important than their character (who they really are). 

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It is often said that for correction to “take root”, it must be shared in genuine and transparent relationships, where we are “known”.  A healthy relationship involves much encouragement and affirmation… and some correction.  If we alter this proportion, our correction will wound and not lead to transformation.  In medicine, we often hear that a patient must be convinced that you care before they will embrace your instruction.  This applies to discipleship, as instruction is only embraced (and trusted) in an environment of care.  Thus Jesus’ emphasis on prioritizing others (love) and credibility (modeling).  We would be wise to remember not only the words of Jesus, but more that which He emphasized.  We know in Cavango that our demonstrated care, our modeling, and our transparent genuineness, witnessed in many and varied trials, conflicts and confrontations, is more important than anything we say.  Who we are will be remembered far more than our words…

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I spent several years studying not only what Jesus said but, more, what He emphasized.  It is the emphases of Jesus that we attempt to model and teach in Cavango, day in and day out, through thick and thin, progress and loss.  We can serve many, but we can only disciple a few

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This month is the anniversary of the death of a man I consider a primary mentor/discipler in my life.  I met Bill Hodges in 1987 while traveling to Limbé, Haiti with a group of fellow medical students.  We were there for two weeks and it was easy to recognize the wealth of experience, knowledge and care in this “leathery”, “old” man who had served in Haiti for 30+ years.  I returned to Haiti multiple times in the following years, for two-month trips, to live and serve with Bill and to soak up all I could from him.  He was direct, tough, 60y/o student of life and a tireless and crazy servant of any and all in northern Haiti who needed help .  His hospital saw 200-500 patients/day while turning away as many as several hundred/day for lack of time, resources and clinicians.

It struck me this year that I am now the same age as that of “old” Dr Hodges when I first met him.  I remember well walking to his kitchen each morning for a simple, sweaty breakfast, trying to think of a question that would get him talking, so I could pocket something/anything from him.  I remember few of his words, but the heart that sat across the table from me still instructs and motivates me daily. Those meals and the picture in my mind of him serving in the clinic are sober, still-impacting memories from those years, mixed together with the world-view-shattering images of rural Haitians living such painful and tragic lives.  Cavango is so similar.

Dr Hodges died in Haiti before he turned 70 and I look forward to bowing before Jesus with him and thanking Jesus for the privilege He gave to me in meeting and receiving from this man, who permanently and deeply impacted me over several years.  I look forward to thanking Bill for his faithfulness to Jesus and I’m sure I will be part of a multitude who will be doing the same. 

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“Do/be that which you admire”. What we admire is often honorable, good, pure and benevolent and can be a healthy distinguishing feature regarding who we become (better than some of the superficial identifying features bantered about today). I hope we are bringing to Cavango even a hint of the admirable, sacrificial and tireless service that Dr Hodges brought to rural Haiti.  I also have the privilege of working in Angola with fellow missionaries, Angolan and foreign, whom I deeply admire and, in Brazil, it was the same.  What immeasurable riches live within my Father’s family… and what a crazy privilege to be a small part… I hope you know the pleasure of our Father this morning, as you partner with us in our work in Cavango and make disciples where you are!

6 comments

  1. Tim, I’m always challenged by your emails of life on the mission field- your trials, tribulations, & triumphs. Most people in our western world have no clue what it’s like unless they have been outside their world. I have been inspired by a British lady that has survived breast cancer a yr. & half ago. We met in a gardening club in Westerville. She is the most positive person I know. She is an overcomer & has seen me as such wi. my joint replacements & surgeries. She is not a believer but I have been sending her texts of spiritual encouragement & praying for her regularly. As a girl growning in in England their parents would send she & her siblings to sev. Protestant churches in Liverpool to socialize wi. other kids (Brigade, etc.). She believes you can believe in whatever God you want to. She is such a kind & caring person but lost. She seens to be open to listening to my comments about how God cares about her & about the mission trips we’ve been on (she has also travelled the world). I have great respect for her knowledge, hard work ethic & care for others. Her name is Leila. Please pray for her to find Jesus thru me & other believers she encounters. Bob Meyer

  2. Tim, you amaze me with the amount of work you do, the issues you face, the challenges, the frustrations, etc and the ability to communicate so well with your prayer/financial supporters. Thanks for sharing. People need to know the difficult challenges you face in spite of the fact that they may be unpleasant to read. It helps us to know how to pray. Keep up the good work. I can imagine the frustrations you face after working with people for all those years and then have them do things that cause more work and can cause death.

    Love and prayers,

    Beverly

    P.S. You probably don’t remember me but we spent a couple of days in Charlotte when you were in SIMCO (I think it was still called that then) when my husband went down to fix an electrical problem in the lodge and you came and sat at our table to get to know us. Royce went to be with the Lord 3 years ago after dealing with Parkinson’s for a few years.

  3. Tim,
    Don’t stop writing often and about everything on your heart! Your voice is needed. Thank you for taking the time in your busy life to write. Say hello to Betsy for me. Praying for save travels for you both.

  4. As always Tim, you correct and guide with your words and actions. You are always in our hearts and prayers.
    May the Lord bless you with clear lungs and a halt to Betsy’s fatigue.

  5. Hey Tim, I spent time at SLC at Tchincombe a few years ago with you. You continue to inspire me to press on toward becoming a missionary. I am praying for you and Betsy and think of y’all often.
    – Kace Ledbetter

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