Development, Gratitude, History, Hunger…

Betsy left for the US in mid-October and has had the opportunity to see our adult kids and her granddaughter after many months of separation. I’m planning to follow her in mid-November.

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My Dad, who lives in the US (Ohio), has recovered from COVID-19 (CV), but had a severe case, was hospitalized, required oxygen, and was touch-and-go for a couple days, so I went into scramble mode to return to the US quickly, if necessary.  It is a four day trip, at best, from Cavango to Ohio, so no reunion happens “quickly” from here.  In Ohio, consent was given for assisted ventilation, preparations for the same were begun, and he received various, approved, in-hospital treatments for CV. Within a day he was improving and the next morning he was on his way to recovery!  Crazy remarkable.  I’m grateful for his treatment and for all the effort that went into its development, production and administration.

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Multiple times daily I consciously marvel at the advances of medicine and the global contributions of so many people who have brought us to a place of overcoming so much illness and disease.  I live in a place where hapless “treatments” for illness are the same as they were 2000 years ago, consisting of “all-natural” roots, leaves, bones, rituals, sticks, dirt, urine, etc and I see, first hand, how vulnerable we are to the vast and powerful world of unseen microbes when we are without knowledge and tools to prevent and combat disease.  We take it for granted.  Until the 1900s, life expectancy historically hovered around 40 years (!) and is now double that in much of the world today, while in Cavango it remains in the early 50’s.

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One reason I so value the practice of medicine is that, for 30+ years, I have daily witnessed the fruit of so many man-hours of wide-ranging research and development, demonstrated in the recovery and survival of thousands of people who would have died without.  Another reason is personal.

Betsy and I contracted CV a couple months ago and it triggered my already somewhat sensitive asthma to a point of needing medication to breathe. Prednisone is of a class of highly effective anti-inflammatory medications called corticosteroids (same class as Dexamethasone, commonly seen in the news re treatment of CV) which blunts the body’s immune response to a foreign “invader”. Asthma is often the result of an “overreaction” of the body’s crazy-remarkable immune system and blunting this response is a way to minimize the resulting lung inflammation. I normally need prednisone about twice yearly to overcome an asthmatic “exacerbation” and would have died years ago had I not had access to the same.

The CV caused an asthma flare (viral “colds” are my most common trigger), the prednisone worked nicely and I have tried to wean off of the prednisone several times since without the return of wheezing and have been unable to do so. Hopefully I will be able to do so soon, as there are known risks to long-term treatment, but I am still breathing, working and living and find myself again grateful for “evidence-based” medical care and for the interventions and contributions of so many, over much time, associated with its development and application. I likely wouldn’t have survived CV without this medication and this is not the first time I have been profoundly grateful for the efforts of so many people, unknown to me.

I’ve had multiple angioplasties and multiple coronary artery stent placements in both the US and South Africa for “premature” heart disease and wouldn’t be alive today without them.  I can’t imagine the list of people who have made a contribution to all the knowledge and development of what is, today, a common procedure in the “developed world”.  For close to twenty years, beginning in my mid-thirties, walking and standing were painful because of two “prematurely” arthritic knees and I had both knees replaced with plastic and metal and have experienced no pain since.  Pain-free is a tremendous gift after enduring daily, life/activity-altering discomfort for so long. 

My life has been extended and improved because of the result of thought, experimentation, sweat and intervention by so many people who worked to see others benefit from the fruit of their labor. I live in a perpetual state of sober gratitude and my primary motive for continuing to serve in Cavango is a simple desire to see a few others without know the same and similar benefits. It’s the same reason I want people to know my Father – it has nothing to do with religion – as knowing Him is the treasure of life and I am beyond grateful to know Him… and to be completely known by Him, yet loved… and I desire others to know Him, as well. A beggar leading another to bread…

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In our Cavango hospital, we now average about 100 inpatients rotating in and out daily, most of whom would not survive their illness without the treatments that we bring from other parts of the world.

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Photos. With (your) contributions, from all over the world, yesterday we transfused blood into a 5y/o with profuse intestinal bleeding and a hemoglobin of 2.3 (normal 12), secondary to a parasitic infestation, who would have died without. She needed type-specific blood, a special needle inserted into her tibia, a sedative to bear it all, etc (all developed elsewhere, over many years) along with donated blood (collected in a bag with chemicals to prevent clotting, researched and developed elsewhere) from one of our workers in order to survive the night. She was smiling and asking for a sucker (also developed elsewhere) the following morning.

With (your) hard-earned contributions from all over the world, in the last two weeks we have sent several people to our colleagues in Lubango to receive life-saving surgery, via knowledge, skill, and technology developed elsewhere.  These patients arrived in Lubango via car and plane, developed elsewhere, benefiting from the knowledge and skill of MAF pilots, developed and honed elsewhere. 

Because of (your) financial contributions from all over the world, we have a one-month-old on his fourth day of oxygen (oxygen saturation < 60% (normal >93%) who would not have survived his severe pneumonia even another day without an oxygen concentrator (and all its parts), a generator (and all its parts), electricity, plastic tubing and knowledge developed by so many people elsewhere. 

We drained large quantities of pus from the chest of a teen a couple days ago who couldn’t breathe and is now resting and receiving effective treatment for Tuberculosis (needles, catheters, plastic, ultrasound machine, etc developed over generations elsewhere). 

You read here, every month, story after story of people in Cavango who will live another day after they are touched by some mud and spit in Jesus’ hands – financial contributions from all over the world combined with simple, good, medical diagnosis and treatment, developed elsewhere via observation, invention, development, and improvement for the benefit of others. And this in a profession which has never improved on 100% mortality!

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We continually emphasize in Cavango that we missionaries are only messengers.  The credit for any health-giving endeavor is not ours, as we simply bring the fruit of knowledge, efforts, skill and work of many people over the centuries to the rural people of the Cavango region. Who is behind it all?

 Jesus emphasized that His Father is always working, that His love for all people is so compelling that Jesus left His glorious majesty to come to this earth, become one of us, and reveal His Father to us; that He loves doing almost all of His work through people  and that one of His primary, eternal characteristics is a radical and profound humility, which keeps Him ever “behind the scenes”.  The Orchestrator of all health-promoting behavior is a Father who cares, who works from an eternal perspective and who finds immense pleasure in frequently intervening for the benefit of those He loves.

Jesus’ influence in the development of health care cannot be overstated. Jesus’ emphases and priorities, and the application of the same by those who have followed Him, have enabled the crazy progress we have seen in health care: humility – recognizing our vulnerability to a hostile world and our “smallness”, “poorness” and “meekness” before His crazy-beautiful Father; passionate hunger – for what is true and good; and a radical, unnatural “other” focus.

Enthusiastic pursuit of the discovery of what is “true” is often maligned among the plethora of information/voices to which we are exposed today, but it is this wise pursuit of reproducible, demonstrable “truth” that results in improved health over time. Over the past many generations, we have learned much about how the body operates, how unseen microbes malign living tissue and how we can intervene to improve health and minimize the cause and effects of disease.

Many of the early scientists worked with a sense of profound wonder in the yet-beyond-our-understanding, magnificent, intricate detail essential for what we call “life”. Their work resulted in awed worship of the Designer of such finely tuned complexity. We have learned to accurately and truthfully record our findings and pass them on to future innovators for further development. This pursuit, discovery, testing and accurate recording of (true) diagnostics and treatments have spurred exponential development of the same, which has brought life-saving and life-extending benefit to me and so many others.

Jesus’ radical prioritization of the virtue of humbly serving and working, seen and unseen, to benefit others  has revolutionized medical development for centuries.  His encouragement of a deemphasis of preoccupation with self and personal success and a radical “other” focus (love your neighbor, serve the needs of the naked, hungry, hurting, heal the sick, free the captive, give a cup of water to one thirsty…) has been a primary motive in the development of health care, both directly, in people devoting their lives to serve those ill and, indirectly, in research and development.   

Contrarily, in a historically animistic and paganistic culture, such as Cavango, self preservation and protection rule the inner man. Any superstitious ritual which might benefit me is prioritized. Speaking and recording what is true is secondary to keeping perceived “peace” and harmony with people and unseen “powers”. Preparation for the future and improving tomorrow are not considerations. People here are always polite, offend no one, always think and speak positively and with optimism, rarely tell the whole truth… and trust no one. I rarely have a conversation where I can trust what is said. Lies are normal and a good story is more important than one that is truthful. For this reason, one could never trust in Cavango what is written about experimentation or previous events. Research and development haven’t happened here and never will apart from a transformed worldview,

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The world seems to be collectively racing toward a worldview similar to what we see in Cavango, as trusting what is said to be truthful is becoming more and more difficult. In contrast, one of the most striking features to me about the stories handed down in the accounts of Jesus and His followers, as well as the way the Jews depicted themselves in the Old Testament accounts, was the radical honesty about the activities of profoundly flawed characters and the absence of hyperbole. Self-promotion and even belief-promotion seemed to take second place to communicating what was true, even when the truth was messy and/or difficult to understand. In comparison to the media and voices of our world today, these accounts reek of being uniquely genuine…

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Any “change” or “development” in Cavango is seen as having the potential to offend someone (living or dead) and this is another reason there has been no “progress” here over time. Understanding, pursuit of truth, innovation, and relational harmony with our environment, past, others, etc. all have value and, as Jesus demonstrated, wisdom necessitates dancing with all, with a fierce loyalty and surrender to our Father, first and foremost. Today we are seeing a global trend toward human pride and independence from our Maker, tribal relational harmony (loyal groupings of those like us) and the pursuit of lazy, personal satisfaction at the expense of the sober effort needed to pursue what is true, even when sacrificing relational harmony might be necessary. The martyrs…

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If we continue – to prioritize living only “for today” and keeping peace at all cost, to belittle the importance of communicating truthfully (even if it is offensive and difficult), and to pursue self-satisfaction and fulfillment first and foremost, we will see more biased research, development and medical care and our collective health will suffer because of it. Especially in science and health care, this will yield devastating long-term consequences as politics and the “market” incentivize research and development, rather than what is true and good.

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Many of you are taking an active role in the care of these beautiful people who need help as sometimes you and I need help.  There is another opportunity for you to serve them.  The people of this region are facing the consequences of a drought that last year killed their crops and many, especially children, are literally dying of hunger and the diseases that attack and flourish in the malnourished and physically vulnerable.  It is now raining nicely and this year’s corn will be edible in February.  We are seeking to raise about $8000 to feed about 100 families two bowls of corn meal daily, per person, in the interim.  If we raise more, we will feed more.  If you would like to contribute, click on “Contributions to our Work” in the menu above this post and designate your contribution for “food”.  On behalf of those who will survive because of these simple meals, thank you!

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