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Suckers, Attitude, Lynching, Needs, Conflicts, Sobas…

 

Every child receives a sucker during a consultation in Cavango.  These suckers serve many purposes, one of which is the delight they give kids who rarely, if ever, have had such a treat.  Another is the delight it gives the provider to witness such delight!  Suckers are also diagnostic.  A child with no interest in a sucker in this culture is quite ill, not mildly ill.  A child with no interest in a sucker is like an infant with no desire to nurse – it is a mental status change that requires investigating.  A child receiving treatment in the hospital for a severe illness who shows interest for the first time reveals a huge step in recovery and points to a likely positive outcome. A sucker can be part of our treatment program.  A sucker can be the first oral nutrition for a recovering coma child.  It can be a source of glucose in a child with malaria, which can cause hypoglycemia, and it can rescue our insulin-dependent diabetics from a hypoglycemic coma…

 

Attitude… We have a beautiful man (photo) who barely gets around the hospital grounds on one crutch because of spinal TB. Francisco raves every day about how much better he is, though his every movement remains slow and painful.  He asks questions every day during our morning meetings when we are talking about who Jesus is and how we can relate with Him. He asks questions when we speak of physical health so he can return to his village with information that will save lives.  He is a delight to all who interact with him.  Francisco has become a joy-filled disciple during his month with us and will affect change in his community when he returns.  Many of us can also remember the season in which we encountered the living Jesus, apart from any religious experience, and when our relationship with Him became our passion…

 

Our new building is a refuge for inpatients and their families during this torrential rainy season (showers and storms nightly).  The corners of several rooms also have “poop” on the floor every morning and there are always puddles of urine in the rooms, as small kids have no diapers.  These folks live in houses with dirt floors and aren’t accustomed to a place where urine and waste don’t absorb into a cement floor.  It’s all easily cleaned…

 

We met with again a severely kind and gentle 72y/o man with an easy smile (Photo) who we have treated several times over the past year for severe neck pain.  He was a colonel in the rebel army during the war and just two years ago (15y after the end of the civil war) he was lynched by a hooded mob of local men near his home.  He was hung ineffectively with a rope from a tree and he almost asphyxiated but, just before he died, he was cut down by a passerby (Good Samaritan story) putting himself at risk by doing so.  Eduardo suffered a severe neck injury, perhaps a broken neck with resulting nerve compression, and speaks hoarsely, likely from damage to his vocal cords/larynx. He expresses no bitterness and holds no grudges and it hasn’t ruined his life. He smiles and says it happened, it’s in the past and he’s grateful for our treatments, which always help.

 

The hostilities and passions in Angola didn’t end with the ceasefire many years ago and those in the US who think this kind of behavior is unique to our history and is about race need to get out more and/or study global history.  This is the way human beings have been treating human beings since the beginning and it is warped arrogance to see it as a uniquely evil occurrence in our country’s history.  There always has been, and still is today, slavery, hatred, violence and similar evil behavior all over the world, but we can have radical impact, as Jesus did, by directing our efforts to loving the hurting and hated, demonstrating and communicating a better way of life, apart from competition, “winning”, conquering, “succeeding”, greed, fulfilling self-focused desires/ambitions, etc.  As it was for Jesus, the outcome for us may be unpleasant but, in a hate-filled, pain-filled world we must nonetheless be about our Father’s business and love as He loves… the hurting, the poor, the naked, the hungry… one beautiful, lovingly created, undeserving person at a time…

 

Old ways are not the best ways…  A child in a jango (grass-roof structure without walls for families of patients to use for cooking and sleeping in the rain) with his mother took a stick with a glowing tip out of the open cooking fire and was touching things with it, out of simple curiosity, and touched a hanging piece of the grass roof and, within five minutes, the jango was lost to quite a bonfire.  No one was hurt.

 

No matter how much passionate longing we hear about “revival”, most of those we encounter will not be interested in a life surrendered to Jesus (broad road), many will feign interest and not follow through (rocky, thorny soil), while others will show immediate and superficial enthusiasm from an emotional experience and their passion will die as quickly as it began.  Many will try to produce Kingdom fruit through their own ideas and efforts, apart from relationship with Jesus, mainly through moral behavior, social change and church activity. This has been a challenge for me lately, as I’ve been feeling the loneliness that comes from living in the minority, among those who have no idea of their Father’s affection for them and, for the most part, don’t care (as in my home country).

 

Years ago, several of us with my sons Ben and Luke were on a six-week exploration trip throughout the Amazon basin to see where we might establish our next work. We were in the northern state of Amazonas on the Rio Negro (Black River) in a small, very simple, river town called Santa Isabel and we stopped and talked with a beautiful, 80+ y/o catholic priest who had lived and worked there for 40+ years.  The town was extremely simple, not unlike where we are currently living in Angola.  This man was an obviously genuine lover of Jesus and lover of the people and he said the most curious thing to us.  He said that sharing about the kingdom of God with the people there was extremely difficult because they had no “felt” need.  He said the community was strong, and when they were hungry or thirsty, there was plenty of fish and water in the river.  They had no money, but didn’t need it.

 

The people here are similar.  They are extremely poor, by any standards, but they never seem needy.  They expect little from life, are rarely surprised by difficulty and bear the hard labor, simple living conditions and total lack of material goods extremely well, usually with an easy, nonchalant smile. The community is strong and they support one another beautifully.  They acknowledge God, desire to be on His good side, but shrug their shoulders when asked about a desire for more.  They are also living after 30+ years of civil war, where they all experienced tragic loss of loved ones and/or severe personal injury.  They keep everything on quite a simple and superficial level, live for only today, and are extremely friendly.  Serious crime is minimal, though alcohol abuse is common (usually confined in rural areas to Sunday, which is “drinking day”), women are treated poorly and children receive little attention from both women and men.

 

Life is not at all easy, but also not complex.  Women embrace their role of care-giver, relish the impact they have on everyone, accept their neglect and belittlement also with a shrug, and dismiss happiness as a pursuit.  They would all admit stoically that their lives are hard, but with more with a shoulder shrug rather than a complaint.  They don’t see themselves as “needy” or frustrated by circumstance, there is little anxiety and depression and suicide is practically nonexistent. They don’t know anything different, there are no TVs or movies here, through which fantasy is dramatized as real, so they don’t seem to long for more.  I also find here that excitement about the Kingdom of God and desire to know Him is extremely rare.  There is a “hardness” about the people that helps them cope with their “lot” and nothing seems to bother them, but their coping mechanism also makes them insensitive to the Kingdom and hope for change or improvement seems absent.  Life here is the same as it has likely been for 2000+ years, and how most people have lived throughout the world until about 300 years ago…

 

People here need no money, and their lives remind me often that most of what I spend personal money on is something I want, rather than need.  They grow what they eat, eat what they have, they’re extremely thin and often experience what we would call severe hunger.  When they get money, they spend it.  They never save for tomorrow and if they experience need, someone in their community helps them.  Almost everyone in our clinic works for about $2US per day and they are content with that because they are living at home in their community. Moving away from their family and community for “a better life” is never a thought…

 

‘Tis the season…  We flew out two children this week with intestinal perforation from typhoid fever. Our beautiful colleagues from MAF flew them to our beautiful surgical colleagues in Lubango at CEML for life-saving repair.

 

We had four unannounced, surprise visits of governmental police delegations last week (up to 12-16 armed men at a time).  They all revolved around rumors of gold in the area and that Betsy and I are major players in its mining and export.  The rumors are nothing new and have surrounded us since our arrival and the meetings were not pleasant (pretty much confrontations) and I voiced directly and firmly that our motives have been demonstrated clearly over these past years, and that their suspicions were unfounded, ridiculous and hurtful to our work and to the people we serve.  In no uncertain terms, I expressed passionately, as I have repeatedly over the years, our desire to work with the government in serving the rural people and that their visits were a show of disrespect and lack of appreciation for us and our work.

 

I then called meetings with our hospital staff and spoke to our church about all of us needing to make decisions.  Life is decisions.  Emotions play a part in our decision-making and our emotions/desires play whatever role in our decisions that we allow them.  I shared that I was upset, but that the issues facing us were greater than my emotions.  The decisions facing all of us involve the continuation of the work in Cavango and on what the work would be based.  It is clear that support from the government will be reluctant, at best.  The Cavango folks and the 50+ villages surrounding have known Betsy and me for 6+ years and they must decide if they want to continue to work with us (in light of the risk of the government’s suspicion of us and our motives).  They know us, our leadership style, our work ethic and our view of the Kingdom of God and must decide whether to partner with us going forward.  We know them, strengths and weaknesses, and face the same decision.

 

I began Sunday’s church service asking them to move all the church benches outside. When this was done, I spoke for an hour outside “the temple” and asked them if God was present with us outside the building.  I directly challenged their firmly held beliefs in several areas, especially re motives.  Laws focus on behavior and Jesus focused always on the “why” behind the behavior. Their view of the Kingdom of God is moralistic, law-based, and largely taken from the Old Testament covenant of God with Israel.  I essentially told them that Jesus is alive and that they are missing a relationship with Him and His new covenant with the world, based on His grace and forgiveness.  I told them that Betsy and I would not work with people with this view and that each and all of them had to decide if Jesus is alive and His whether His words and life are a true revelation of His Father…

 

Are we to be a people who are passionate about following Old Covenant laws and rules or are we to be people passionate about following Jesus and his New Covenant?  I spoke of the radical difference between the two. Jesus encouraged us to forgo conscious law-following – which is quite self-focused – and to abandon a pursuit of law-abiding in order to run hard after Him.  I spoke of Jesus’ emphasis of prioritizing love – of our Father and of each other – rather than a me-focused, performance-based, pursuit of “being good”. Jesus said that no one is good but God and that following laws is not a worthy pursuit if we claim to be His follower.  He encouraged us to abandon our own interests, to look up and out, to serve, with passion, our Father and those He loves.  He indicated that when we follow hard after Him we would fulfill all appropriate “laws”.

 

The response of the hospital staff, the church, and the people of this region to my conflict with the police and my resulting (pretty firm) messages has been overwhelming and unanimously, and passionately, supportive.  The sobas (chiefs) of the surrounding villages traveled for two hours in our ambulance to meet with the government leaders and the government leaders asked them for forgiveness for their actions and voiced support for our work and stated that our work (and that of MAF and CEML) was the best thing that has happened in this region since before the war, 40+ years ago.  They inquired as to how to help us in our work and the chiefs responded and I wasn’t there to hear their response.  Over the past year I have resisted initiating interaction with the government as my presence had become an obvious detriment to our negotiations with them, because of the overriding suspicion surrounding us.  My presence and work was an offense to those in power and I had determined that it was best that the local people spoke on our behalf, as witnesses to our lives and work, rather than me promoting myself and my work.  It has worked beautifully, most of the time…

 

The sobas then visited us at our home yesterday, traveling many miles at great effort because of an all-day torrential downpour (no cars here), to speak with Betsy and me personally to hear our reason for the conflict and to voice their support for our work, stating that they did not want to return to the state of health in their region before our presence here. Eighteen people crowded into our jango and most spoke, some at length, of their passionate support for us and our work and they stated their reasons why we should not abandon the work because of the actions of the government.  They recounted stories of the war years when they, as rural people, were treated so poorly and never saw an end to it, and then one day the war was over and people have since become gradually more civil toward them.  They also gave me an opportunity to speak of my reasons for my battles with the police, mainly revolving around a large fine that we, MAF and the denomination who owns the mission (UIEA) were issued several years ago for working on the runway after obtaining permission to do so, based completely on lies. Regarding my treatment by the police, they were empathetic, passionate and supportive.  It was an impressive, fascinating and crazy-encouraging two-hour meeting to be a part of and Betsy and I left our jango with further resolve to serve these people.  Years ago, I asked my Father to give me a genuine love for these people, and He has done so, with passion; something I could never have worked up myself…

 

Sometimes facing conflict head on and taking a firm stand against injustice yields positive results.  We’ll see how it plays out…

 

Please pray for our Father’s Kingdom to come, in whatever way He sees fit, in this conflict and on my upcoming, challenging 20-day trip with MAF to the famine-stricken southeastern province of Cuando Cubango..

 

Thank you for your trust in us and for your sacrificial support of our work!