Dr Collins, A Visit, Some History, Mountains and Valleys…

 

A couple times weekly I hide suckers for each of our five neighbor kids when I return from the clinic. It’s such a joy to hear them discover the suckers and run home screaming to their siblings about the “treasure” they found.

 

We are enjoying another visit with 82 year old, ever-smiling and never slowing Steve Collins, who is with us again for two weeks doing cataract surgeries. He began medical school at 37 years old and was a general missionary doc until in his 50s, when he learned cataract surgery, and has since given sight to thousands in Angola. He is such a delight and such an example of a servant of “the least” and the hurting. It’s never too late to serve Jesus and those He loves… So many needs… Mud and spit, no matter its age, in Jesus’ hands has such value… to so many…

 

We had three patients with life-threatening peritonitis this past two weeks, two young men with appendicitis, verified via ultrasound, typically an urgent surgical illness, and a third – a nine-year-old girl with typhoid fever with an intestinal perforation  –  also a surgical illness.  They all survived with only medical treatment and without surgery, and returned home healed. The Wind…

 

We also had three uneventful deliveries this week in our hospital. This virtually never happens, as most births in this rural region occur at home and we only get those with complications, usually about three weekly… We continue to preach about the value of at least one prenatal visit and the value of a hospital birth, when possible.

 

I am stopping my visits to the desolate and impoverished southeast province of the country for the next couple of years.  We don’t have the financial or human resources to continue, even though the church denomination and the government of the region both embrace our presence and our work, which is crazy when considering all we’ve dealt with in Cavango, chronicled below.  It’s an agonizing choice, like choosing which three of the ten famished people in your life raft will divide the recently snagged minnow.  I will continue to cry out to my Father and write pleas for help, as I often do in these posts, and I hope that we will be able to continue the work in the future.

 

Quite a day…  We received a message by motorbike (no phone service here) that the new provincial governor was to visit us in Cavango the following day to see the work of the mission.  We contacted our mission leaders and invited MAF’s leaders, since they all play such a significant role in our work.  The difficulty with inviting them is that we have received the same message about five times over our seven years in Cavango and all of the others resulted in no-shows.  But this is a new governor… so all of our colleagues came, by MAF plane… and the governor arrived… with a delegation of 30+ cars and 150+ well-dressed and masked people, all enduring a tough 3hr drive to get here.

 

It’s been a trying seven years endeavoring to work with the government and gain their support and authorization for our simple work (we still don’t have electricity) in Cavango.  We’ve never asked them for money…  It began with us moving here and renewing a medical work that was present in the form of a large Leprosarium from 1950 – 1970 because of its central location in the country, and a hospital from 1970 until 1976, when the whole place was evacuated and destroyed during the civil war.  Five thousand men, women and children from this area walked for nine months to seek refuge in Zambia, painstakingly and anxiously avoiding armies and hiding in the bush the whole way.  They made it safely and remained in Zambia as refugees for years.  These are the people we work with!  The stories they tell of those years are many, few happy, but all reveal a people of crazy character and endurance.

 

Under the direction of Steve Foster, our beautiful, visionary Angola SIM medical chief, the wonderful organization of Samaritan’s Purse financed the construction of a small clinic here in 2006, hoping for a future medical work to serve these rural people.  When we arrived in Angola, I worked with MAF and flew to various remote places to hold clinics, including Cavango.  It was easy to recognize the great potential to serve this largely forgotten and neglected population, both in proclaiming and teaching the Good News of Jesus’ affection for them, as well as serving them medically, as there was no evidence-based medicine accessible anywhere in the region. We were living in the southern part of the country at the time and beginning a clinic work in another remote and underserved area… but…

 

Betsy and I, with Meredith, Ben and Ellie, moved to Cavango in 2013, via the recommendation of our SIM leadership.  After our arrival, I began working weekly and monthly in various local health posts within several hours drive (all staffed with minimally trained nurses and no meds). I also began to meet with a multitude of tribal chiefs and leaders in the local, municipal and provincial governments, in order to introduce our work and express our desire to partner with the government in serving the people in this uniquely rural area, which is home to about 50,000 people in 60+ small villages, and is located hours (by car) from the closest city in every direction (but no one has cars and few have dirt bikes).  I asked an elderly patient recently if he ever goes to the city, because he could, perhaps, get some lab work done to help with his diagnosis.  He thought for a moment and replied, “Yes, I went to a city in 1998.”  These are the people we serve…

 

Since the beginning, we’ve been received with enthusiasm by the rural people we serve and our consultation and inpatient numbers continue to grow but, unfortunately, we’ve been met with suspicion at every turn by those in authority, as they refuse to believe our simple motive to serve. We’ve been accused of secretly mining for gold and diamonds and harvesting body parts for profit!  I’ve personally had over thirty meetings with these various leaders, followed by rumors, antagonism and/or no response.  During our time in Cavango, there have been four new governors, and four new municipal leaders (“mayors” in the US).  Each of these changes in leadership necessitated more meetings and introductions, as we sought partnership with them.

 

Also, my first year here, we transported ten people to the large provincial hospital (I drove each 6 hours to the hospital) for urgently needed, life-saving surgery, having nine of them die, over the following days, without ever receiving surgery.  In desperation, we partnered with our wonderful MAF colleagues to transport those needing urgent surgery to our faithful and skilled surgery colleagues at our “mother ship” mission hospital, CEML, in Lubango (another province) to receive evidence-based, timely and caring surgical treatment.  Since then, we have transported 60+ patients per year to receive life-saving surgeries, paid for by our wonderfully faithful supporters at an average of about $500US for each.  Would you join our work and support these people needing life-saving surgery?

 

In 2014, we received permission from our local and municipal government to build a dirt airstrip to transport these patients from our mission, without having to drive a very rough 60-90 minutes on dirt “roads” to the closest dirt airstrip.  We began the work on the airstrip, only to have it dramatically (helicopters, police and guns) suspended the following year for “landing on” an unauthorized airstrip (it wasn’t even half completed) and they issued us a large fine, under threat of losing our visas if not paid (another story).  We had no recourse.

 

We were given a new list of requirements needed to complete the strip, and set about collecting all the necessary information.  We turned in all the documents, after several years of effort in satisfying all of the onerous requirements (similar to those necessary to build a city airport), only to have them all “lost” several days later in a government office!  They told us we needed to begin collecting original documents again, which we did as, again, we had no recourse.  With no phone service or ability to make appointments, while living hours away from the government offices and where there are only horrible dirt “roads”, I can’t describe the effort involved in securing these documents.  I had more meetings with government officials, even sitting with two, then current, governors, and gathered more documents… Then the leadership changed again…

 

But a new governor was appointed a few months ago…  with a new provincial health director… and we’ve heard much positive about both… And then, out of nowhere, this visit… which resulted in all of them voicing “support” for both the work and for the airstrip…

 

With this substantial visit, at great effort by these many government leaders, we are hopeful that the support we have been seeking is coming to fruition.  We are adding some much needed services at the hospital, such as electricity, a lab and x-ray, along with the airstrip and we are, again, voicing our desire to work with the government in serving these people. We’ll see…

 

For 2000 years, Jesus followers have been, as was He, misunderstood and mistreated for serving and loving people. We’ve met direct and indirect antagonism at every turn, involving many unpleasant confrontations, and we’ve lived under the threat of closure our whole time here, as government leaders have repeatedly told us that they could/should/would close our work any time…  Pushing light into darkness and advocating for the abused and neglected is a far cry from a feel-good enterprise full of self-satisfaction…

 

Living by his own self-serving and shortsighted wisdom, chasing his own self-serving desires and seeing only himself as the world’s savior, apart from surrender to His Maker and only real Master, mankind can be quite ugly.  History records this clearly, but today history is ignored and/or dismissed as irrelevant because we’ve “progressed” so much more than those before us.  We’ve experienced man’s ugliness in Angola and man’s base nature around the world is becoming less easy to hide today with internet, 24hr news and our attraction to negative, sensationalistic clickbait.

 

About one of every 1700 (!) “Christ-followers” is working in cross-cultural missions. One of 17,000 (!) is working with those who haven’t heard the Good News, though the One each claims to follow said, “Go into all the world… healing, preaching the Good News, serving, making disciples…”  There are 1400 physicians serving outside their own country, where there are otherwise no/few doctors (1 out of every 10,000 docs).  There are so many people lost, hurting, lonely, hungry, confused... NO special gifts are required outside of love for your Father and love for those you serve… Jesus even valued giving a drink to one thirsty and a coat to one without… It will cost you much… but… many will benefit!  Mother Teresa wasn’t a doctor or a nurse…  If you have ever considered “going”, or supporting one who goes, would you discuss it again with your Father this week?

 

Are we called to rescue and save people or serve them, in any small way, in the midst of their difficulty?  What is so unique about following Jesus is that the more closely we follow Him, the more others benefit…

 

So many have been disillusioned in the American church today, as they seek a relationship with Jesus based on exciting emotional experiences, only to discover that emotions, in all relationships, vary over time (including periods of no “feelings”).  Jesus, however, never changes, is ever faithful, and can be trusted to lead us to abundant and eternal intimacy with Him and abundant concern for others, quite apart from feelings and emotions, which are ever-changing, and cannot be trusted to lead us anywhere….

 

Closing church services may be the best thing that could happen to the current western, “christian” culture, forcing Jesus-lovers to invite the neglected and rejected into their homes and the hungry to meals (instead of a church service)… pushing us out onto the streets and coffee shops, and allowing to leave those who think following Jesus is about beautiful church services, which He never advocated.  We don’t need more guitar players at riots, more “modern” music services in air-conditioned mega buildings with emotional altar calls, more “healing crusades”…  What did Jesus model and encourage?  Those who will go on walks alone with their Father and ask Him to lead them to whomever, wherever, however to serve, encourage, embrace.  Those who will disregard their own lives/success for the sake of others, those who worship Jesus in their closet and initiate serving those hurting and lonely who don’t notice or even care.  When Jesus called us to love, it had nothing to do with emotion and everything to do with priority, placing the benefit of anyone and everyone before our own… on the streets, in our community, at work/school, in our marriage, downtown and around the world…  Who can you serve today?

 

Jesus does not call us to “experience His presence”, to “feel His touch” or to “hear His voice”, but to see without seeing, hear without hearing… to sweaty service and practical care for others, and to testify that He is alive and who He said He is… which anyone can do, even a bunch of uneducated and fickle fishermen!  Our Father doesn’t call the gifted and qualified.  He rather calls those the world would label as weak, fickle and unwise, to simple and sacrificial service of those hurting and forgotten. Opportunities to humbly serve have been available throughout history and in every corner of the world, the hurting and impoverished have always been among us, and Jesus still calls His own away from seeking thrilling mountaintop “experiences” to serve with Him in the messy, dark and cold valleys (in our neighborhoods, towns, cities, and around the world) where people are hurting, confused and alone… to be witnesses that He is alive and still “the Way, the Truth and the Life”…