“Coincidence”, Housing, Children’s Children, Animism, gods…

One morning, I invited our vacationing visitor (Cavango can be a restful escape for an outsider), 85y/o Dr Collins, a man I admire more than most, to speak to our patients and families before our clinic day. Dr Collins has served the poorest of the poor via an exhausting travel schedule for over thirty years (he goes to the hurting and blind), restoring sight to thousands through cataract surgery and teaching/preaching/demonstrating the Good News of God’s inexplicable grace.

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I had prepared to share that morning on light and darkness and that we, as followers/bearers of the Light, are called to illuminate darkness and to never allow our light to be hidden under a basket, unseen. When he got up to speak, Dr Collins referenced the exact verses that I had prepared. Odds of this happening are well beyond coincidence, when considering the thousands of biblical passages/messages Steve (or I) could have referenced on one particular morning… Our Father sometimes communicates specifically to a particular individual/group at a particular time. This was clearly one of those times. I shared with the group the unlikelihood of such an occurrence and I encouraged “ears to hear” what our Father was saying to specifically us in this special moment. For those with “eyes to see”, our Father is ever involved and interactive with us, demonstrating His care in so many ways,

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There are few things I do in Cavango that have more value than leading this discussion daily with our patients and their families before we begin our day.  These days it is cold, in the 40s, and between 50 and 200 people leave their warm blankets by an open fire to learn something on improving our physical and spiritual health.  My Father is faithful, every day, to give me words and messages to encourage and challenge those hungry few, out of the hundreds of people “camping” nightly around our hospital.  “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst…”

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Husband and wife, Valentino and Maria came to see me yesterday, seeking to reimburse us for their surgeries in Lubango.  I vaguely remembered their kind spirits as I reviewed their charts.  They had arrived together in a car (unusual in Cavango) a year ago, from a city five hours away, with separate complaints.  Maria had swollen lymph nodes in her thigh and a large tumor/wound on the bottom of her foot and I suspected metastatic malignant melanoma. Valentino had a growing mass in his left breast and I suspected breast cancer. I sent them both on the same MAF flight to our surgical colleagues in Lubango, saw them again after their confirmed diagnoses and surgeries and hadn’t seen them since.  Both are well with no reoccurrence of their respective illnesses and they drove all the way to Cavango to reimburse us for their care!

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In my last post, I shared about our new medical colleague, Laurel, and her need to construct a house in which to live while serving in Cavango.  We have shared that the cost given to us by a contractor would be in the range of $120,000US.  Laurel has designed a very simple, cement block house that would cost about $60,000 in the city and the price is doubled because all material must be transported, at significant cost, from the closest city, five hours away by truck. Also, the current economy is experiencing a weakened dollar and stronger kwanza, which drives up the price of anything imported (about everything).  Please contribute, and know that any money contributed to this house will be money contributed to the care of all the patients, likely thousands, that Laurel will treat in Cavango for the next many years…

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Our simple hospital construction, on the foundation of the hospital destroyed during the civil war in 1976, is about complete (photos).  We will have many more beds under roof, especially for critical patients, and electricity and plumbing, with even flushing toilets!  We will also have simple digital X-ray and simple lab machines.  The quality of our service will improve greatly and we look forward to reporting some of the changes in coming days.  I held a meeting with our remarkable local construction crew of about twenty men, and exclaimed my pleasure re the excellence of the effort they have put forth over the past year, emphasizing that the fruit of their severe and sweaty labor (block walls, cement floors, metal beds and tables, new pipe laid for 2km to bring water from a natural spring, metal windows and doors, sidewalks, the airstrip, a raft and bridge to help people cross rivers, and so much more, all fabricated by these guys here), will serve ill, hurting, hungry people for many years.  Their children and their children’s children…  They have wholeheartedly embraced this vision and are so pleased with their “product”, as am I.  Virtually all of the work being done in Cavango has been by the local people, with donated funds from people like you from the other side of the world and the timely, talented service of several small teams, with people from all over the US and Canada.  It’s a beautiful marriage that reflects our Father and the vision Jesus communicated for His “body”  when He spoke of the “greater works” that would accompany His followers…

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We are planning an inauguration in mid-September to celebrate the opening of the construction and we are told that it will be attended by more than a thousand people.  This will require some funding and planning, but will be a significant memory for the people of the region!

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We have a critical heart failure patient, Armando, a delightful 62y/o man, from the capital of the country who drove two days in a car to be treated in Cavango.  We were out of beds and decided to use one of the rooms in the new building to house him and his family.  He has two small daughters who find me daily for a “snack”.  I arrived for his exam one morning to our freshly painted, newly finished room and his wife was cooking breakfast over an open fire in a small grill on the floor!  Armando improved greatly over the course of a week, was fully engaged in every morning group discussion, and left for home yesterday…

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So many stories, but one follows – Fernando is going home (photo).  He is a fifty year old man who arrived in Cavango several months ago, emaciated, barely walking and with great difficulty breathing.  We found both sides of his chest full of fluid and drained almost a liter of thin pus from each side.  His breathing improved radically and we began aggressive treatment for his disseminated TB.  Three days later he was short of breath again, the TB-generated pus had returned and we painfully aspirated the liquid again.  Another three days and he was in the same state.  This time we put in a chest tube, about the diameter of a pencil, and left it for four days, until the fluid stopped accumulating in the used water bottle he carried with him everywhere.  After pulling the tube, he looked so much better and we thought he was on his way, but a few days later the fluid had returned.  I wondered what I might be missing and whether surgical intervention might help, so we sent him to our surgical colleagues in Lubango.  At CEML, they placed another chest tube, confirmed the diagnosis of TB and he remained for a week, until his chest was dry, and they removed the tube.  He returned and we resumed TB treatment.  Several days after returning, however, Fernando developed a raging fever, more difficulty breathing and severe chest pain.  We drained his chest again and, this time, pulled off a liter of milky, thick pus, much different than his previous fluid collections.  He had developed a bacterial “empyema”; essentially his whole left chest had become an abscess.  We placed another, larger chest tube, which remained for over a week.  When we finally pulled this tube, his chest remained dry and he left us this week to continue his TB treatment at home for six months.  He has endured so much in just a few months but will live to tell about it!

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Just a few more… I saw about thirty inpatients this morning (Friday) and perhaps 25 were remarkably better and many went home fully recovered from serious illnesses.  Several had been on oxygen and critical for days…  A little girl (photo) who arrived in a bacterial meningitis coma a week ago with her neck stiff-as-a-board and bent fully back like she was always looking up, and with no response to the insertion of multiple needles.  Today she sat up in bed, turned her head toward me with no pain or stiffness, smiled and reached out for a sucker before I offered one!  A boy who arrived in a cerebral malaria coma for days was sitting up and eating in his mother’s lap.  A boy who arrived in severe rheumatic heart failure combined with TB, who was on oxygen for a week, walked in (!) to see me with a smile, reached for a sucker and had no shortness of breath at all, after gasping for breath for days and unable to even lie down or move around in bed! 

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Most cases we treat in Cavango are not remarkable in the world of modern medicine, but in this setting every recovery is wondrous.  In this rural, low-resource Africa “setting”, the only other options (often, to some degree explored before deciding on Cavango) are the shaman’s roots, leaves and who-knows-what-else (urine, for example, is in so many of their “potions”); grandma’s remedies; riding it out and hoping it “goes away”; the free, governmental health post with empty shelves, except for needles and syringes that are reused on multiple people for weeks, all in the hands of maybe one untrained “nurse”… or spending one’s life-savings to buy a ride on a motorbike to the city to receive the discriminatory treatment afforded only to the “bush people” – those barefoot, raggedy and rail-thin who can’t speak Portuguese.  They are ignored and/or shuffled into a long line of others and wait outside for hours, only to receive a “shotgun” prescription (without an exam) with always the same five medications, none of which will treat their specific illness (unless the shotgun hits something) and all of which they cannot afford at the urban pharmacy.

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The animistic god created and “developed” by generations of rural Angolans is aloof, unconcerned with, and uninvolved in, the affairs of men and nothing like Jesus’ revelation of His interactive, caring and “always working” Father.  Similarly, the genie god created by today’s American “Christian” is completely unlike the One whose message and life revealed quite a different character. The god of the modern, American “church” is largely about personal “healing”, “prosperity”, improvement, and/or securing a pleasant eternity (which is all about personal eternal bliss and has nothing to do with the pleasure of the King).  Absent is Jesus’ message of interactive intimacy with, and costly surrender to, His Father, the Alpha and Omega. 

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We live and work in remote, impoverished and isolated Cavango because of what I read in the letters of a few men who followed Jesus daily and recorded His teaching/life, prompting in me a desire to know Him, follow Him and be like Him… not because of some magical or religious experience or “call”. After many years of knowing Him, I still marvel at Jesus’ radical and historically unique message encouraging His followers to be preoccupied with others’ problems, difficulties, confusion, need and suffering. But many, within “His” church, hear (and teach) entirely differently and place great value in personal fulfillment and betterment. Many believe that Jesus’ will is to orchestrate circumstances which will create, specifically for His followers, a magical heaven on earth, but I find this preoccupation with a heavenly earthly experience neither in the life/message of Jesus nor in that of His followers, who taught and demonstrated prioritization of their Father’s will, at any/all personal cost. This devotion to their Father and to others resulted in torture and death for many, including the One we claim to follow… Then, three days later He lived again, as will all who know and love Him… that is the Good News!

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In Cavango, our message of the Kingdom of Jesus is preoccupation with what our living, interactive Father would have us do. The One we claim to follow was preoccupied with the same and He so prioritized us that He left His unimaginably exalted position to live among us, as one of us, to reveal the truth of His Father, His character and His ways. Jesus said His primary concern was what He saw His Father doing and what His Father instructed Him to do. His life and message wasn’t about doing His best to follow rules, be a good or nice person (“performance management”), personal inner fulfillment/enlightenment or earthly comfort/happiness/success. Improving His self-esteem and fulfilling His desires did not drive Him. He didn’t “seek His Father’s presence”; He knew His Father was ever-present and said so! What motivated Him was others’ lack, sheep without a shepherd, and what his Father would have Him do, in word or deed, to serve the same. He didn’t try to increase His influence among men or become a better “leader”. He came to die, daily and ultimately, prioritizing those He loved, solely trusting His Father with any “influence” He might have. He sought to be poured out… serving… and He encouraged the same in those who wanted to follow Him. How did we move so far from Jesus’ message and from following Him and doing what He did?

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Or am I the one deceived about Jesus and what it means to follow Him? It isn’t uncommon for me to look around and wonder if the benefits are worth the costs in Cavango. My Father remains as unseen for me as He is for everyone, and many days I simply hope in the silence that what we are doing brings Him pleasure… Then, I often end up thinking about starfish and beaches and dive back in…

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There is no personal enjoyment in a cross (none) or in sweaty, selfless service – where the most frequent accompanying “feelings” are pain and fatigue. Jesus did not promise prosperity and health for his followers. He indicated, rather, that weeping will be more common than laughter and misunderstanding and persecution would replace earthly “success”… but… many would benefit. One for many… This could be a mission statement for a follower or a church but we, rather, seek personal “peace” and “joy” (one for one) while so many remain hungry, abused, and hurting… alone…

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There is far too much pain, confusion, injustice, wonder and beauty in our Father’s created world for one to prioritize the pursuit of personal happiness/fulfillment/contentment…

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Those of you who sacrificially serve these beautiful people in Cavango with us… these who will never know but will awaken to another sunrise to receive, again, our Father’s quiet invitation to know Him and be known… Thank you!

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2 comments

  1. Tim, your words are so powerful because it is Jesus in you speaking words of encouragement and great joy to also bring great conviction of selfishness. More of Jesus and less of me.

  2. Thanks again, Tim. for your wonderful stories of God’s healing in the lives of people in Cavango. What a great ministry you have. In the midst of frustrations and heartbreaks, I pray that God will surround you with His peace and give you grace and strength to face each new day. Blessings as you serve our wonderful Lord.
    Beverly

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