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Appreciation, Timing, Reality, Plumbing, Wells…

 

When Betsy and I arrived in Cavango after a day-long, uneventful trip from Lubango (See photo) in cloud-covered darkness (darkness here means no light), we stopped at the clinic to see if anyone might be around.  The staff knew we were traveling that day and, though it was quite late, everyone was in the clinic waiting our arrival.  There were fires all around the clinic where people were sleeping on the open ground and waiting our return and they left their fires and gathered at the clinic entrance and applauded in unison as we walked up from our car.  They must’ve said a dozen times in the ensuing conversation how pleased and grateful they were for our return.  Sometimes this work gets pretty trying, but moments like these…

 

I’ve had the opportunity to reconnect with many dear friends in Lubango and Cavango over the past couple weeks.  In chatting with our new pastor, who is a genuine Jesus-lover and missionary (he was born and raised in another part of Angola and moved here to become part of our “mission” and make disciples in this region where so many haven’t heard the Good News of our Father’s radical affection for them), he shared that once while we were in the US, he invited the members of our little local church on the mission to fast and pray for us, that we would be led by our Father in raising awareness and support to specific, interested people who would join our work, personally or financially.  The following day, our clinic director here received a message from me in the US, via WhatsApp, asking him to pray specifically for my upcoming message in a few days at our home church, VCDC, in Sunbury, Ohio.  If my message spoke to you, either that day or through the recording (see previous post, “Mud and Spit”), there was more behind the pull on your heart/mind than just my words!

 

He also recounted how he and so many here prayed, wept and sought God for several years for the termination of the 30+ year civil war and how they tearfully rejoiced when peace came and the slaughters ended.  He encouraged me to not become discouraged at delays and antagonism from the government re our work here, as we must trust in our Father’s timing and the words of Jesus before Pilate, that Pilate could do nothing to Him apart from His Father’s awareness and permission.  Like Jesus and His early followers, who suffered so much loss, this man courageously still worships his Father and trusts in His eternal good purpose behind every difficult-to-understand circumstance…  I am so often challenged by the lives and beauty of the people here!

 

I’ve seen about 200 patients in our first week back, many waiting days and weeks for our return.  Some sad cases that we couldn’t help, but so many people have received the care they needed for improvement, if not healing, of their illness.  I marvel every morning during in-patient rounds how virtually every person is better.  It really is good, and such a privilege, to be back and in a position to help and serve these beautiful folks.

 

We have so many stories of God’s intervention with “mud and spit”…  A woman in her mid-twenties had never become pregnant after many years of marriage and sought our help last year.  We treated some possible (unlikely) causes, encouraged her that only God gives life, and we prayed together with her and her husband and asked our Father to create a life within her and I saw her this week six months pregnant with a healthy baby boy.

 

Jesus indicated that our lives would be evaluated by how we treated the most vulnerable. 

 

Reality… On my return to Cavango, the differences in my two “worlds” is so great that it is sometimes difficult for me to believe that a place like the US really exists as I look out my clinic window at an approaching, skin-and-bones, barefoot, 25-year-old man in rags, with TB, arriving after walking several days for a consultation.  It has also been difficult for me these past five months in the US to believe that a place like Cavango can possibly be real.  Every Sunday, for illustration, 5-25 kids arrive at our house for a used, empty can (the type we use for peas, beans, etc) to take home as a toy.  Just a month ago, I walked through Walmart…

 

How do we define “reality”?  Is reality defined by our own perceptions and senses?  Is what I can’t see/hear/touch real?  Are the cries of those in Cavango (and so many places like it) real as I wait in line at Kroger with my full grocery cart?  Our culture’s confusion in this regard is highlighted by the ridiculous saying we have all heard, “If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?”  This man-centered, arrogant, foolish question is considered “thought-provoking” by many today and tempts us to live without acknowledging unseen and unfelt realities and without appreciating a God who interacts with us on a level quite apart from our senses and who is not defined by our perception of Him.

 

For many of us, reality and self-perception is defined by others’ opinions, by Hollywood, by comparison to others (we were each created completely and beautifully unique), by our church, by our culture, etc… In the way we spend our time, thought and effort, America is unlike any culture that has existed before us.  We know that, personally and culturally, our limited self-awareness prevents us from seeing our current immaturity and shortsightedness, except in hindsight.  Will we permit our reality to be defined by something so new and unique that it hasn’t had the opportunity to be tested over time to determine whether its various tenants are healthy or unhealthy?  Will we define “normal”, “healthy”, and “relevant” by our own little patched together calculations, wishful thinking, political correctness, Facebook, Google, etc?

 

Many look to science for truth but, having worked in the field of science for 30+ years, I’ve witnessed first-hand the human bias that taints the field and that, though we’ve learned much, our scientific knowledge of this world is humbly miniscule. Only 100 years ago, science was as certain as it is today about truth, and most of what we know today was yet unknown! And we are only beginning to appreciate the depth of the enormous complexity of this world/universe.  To trust (and base our sense of reality on) what is believed true in science today is as foolish as it would have been to do so 100 years ago.

 

Television hasn’t arrived in Cavango yet, and no one has seen a movie, so the confusion and discontent brought by false life portrayals on a screen has not yet arrived.  I want to bring electricity here, if possible, but recognize there will be risks along with benefits…

 

Years ago I sat with a weeping mother in her home on a small tributary in the Amazon Basin, who had heard in the past week that her dearly loved and beautiful, 18 year old daughter had committed suicide in a city two days journey away.  She recounted how she was a loving and sensitive girl, close to her parents and community. until she began watching the evening soap operas, called “Novelas”, at a friend’s house who had a generator and TV. These shows portray life falsely, as do all films and shows in the US (one cannot “portray” reality accurately), but in a way that appears real and creates envy for that which the viewer doesn’t have and/or hasn’t experienced.  She left her village for the city to find this ideal “life” she saw portrayed on screen and, just two years later, her mother sat before us tearfully sharing how her daughter bought a false reality and lost appreciation for real life, while chasing “dreams” based on what wasn’t real.

 

How many of us are like that girl, even within the Kingdom of God?  We are often like someone confronted by a leaking pipe, choosing to ”lay hands on” and pray for its repair rather than find a wrench or a plumber to take care of the problem.  Our Father humbly invites/allows us to participate in the repair!  Kingdom reality is not fantasy (as it is with many non-sweaty “Christians” with clean hands, living in comfort, who pray/wish “Thy Kingdom come”, but never leave their “closet”.  The Kingdom is “both, and” and Jesus-followers are here to live (and die) out of a love relationship with the King, while doing His bidding as His sweaty and dirty hands and feet…

 

Jesus invites us to base our sense of reality on Him and what He said of God, us and the world.  His perspective is still so relevant but, as with all of our choices in what we believe, comes to us as an invitation.  Will we believe Him or someone/something else as to what is true, and what is worthy of our attention, devotion and efforts?  Jesus’ half-brother, who saw Him alive after He had died, and who initially didn’t believe what He said, wrote that many people live as on a wave, with their beliefs and passions tossed to and fro by external cultural and human forces, anchored to nothing.

 

Jesus said that we could trust His world-view and his perspective on our identity, on the world, on each other, and on healthy vs destructive behavior – then He died and came back to life to validate His words as uniquely divine.  He said that “life” was found in relationship with His unseen Father (“Blessed are those who believe without seeing”), and that which is most important and relevant in our lives is beyond our senses.  Paul, who also saw Jesus alive after He had died, described the fruit of Jesus’ reality as characteristics of our Father growing in us – love, peace, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Paul also wrote that we can seek “life” apart from Jesus and our “reality” will be characterized by sexual desire, immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, hostility, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, factions, dissension, envy, drunkenness, selfish ambition, division, etc.

 

A dear friend and pastor, Danny Meyer, would often say that we can dig where there is water, and we can dig where there is no water.  The choice is ours as to where we place our efforts and devotion, often determined by whose counsel we follow.  Jesus essentially told us where to place our efforts and the historically observant and intellectually honest will see (those who have eyes to see) the fruit of following Jesus as well as the that of rejecting Him.  It’s been said that we were created to be worshippers and followers, and we will always worship and follow something and/or someone.  What an honor we have been given by our Creator to make our own choice as to whom we give ourselves.

 

Surrendering to Jesus leaves one with a sense of wonder and gratitude, while surrendering to the culture of today leaves one always desiring more…

 

I remember returning from my first trip to Haiti thirty years ago and thinking that my sense of reality had been obliterated.  I had been quite “American”, subjective and shortsighted in my view of the world.  I feel the same this morning, as I return to Cavango and embrace the thick, calloused hands of a 100lb, 50 year old woman with incurable kidney failure because of a parasite she picked up as a kid, playing in the water as her mom did the weekly laundry in the stagnant river near their village.  The parasite caused chronic inflammation in her renal system and is silently and painlessly killing her.  The same illness killed our dear friend last year, is quite prevalent here and doesn’t exist in the US.  It is easily treated with a couple pills in childhood or early adulthood, but left untreated often causes cancer and/or kidney failure.  Also not a reality in the US, in the next bed I hold a 3 year old girl in a coma from cerebral malaria…