life and death: healthcare in the bush

So Friday we opened the clinic again after being closed for a week in the city. Like always with Africa, nothing goes quite as planned. Jill was with Robert (the national nurse who helps us and translates for us) in the treatment room and I was taking names/payment/complaints/triaging in the other room and a man came to say that his wife was hemorrhaging from the vagina at 3 months pregnant, and she needed to get to the hospital. We have a contract with the hospital in town that we will take things outside a certain scope of practice to the doctor there. So I rushed out to the car and called Kelly (my other teammate) to come along for the ride so she could drive while I took the vitals of the woman once we picked her up. So we drove to the village (off-roading through the bush) only to find that the woman was so scared she was going to lose the baby that she started walking. So then I drove back and forth, through thorns and over termite mounds while the hot sun beat down on the hard ground. Her husband alternated between riding in the car directing me, and jumping out to run through the bush looking for her. And the land rolls and dips, hiding gullies and more thorns, with bushy grass and scrub that all too easily obscure the sight and ability to see a small dark woman fighting for the life inside of her. I prayed and drove and strained my eyes and another man joined the search. And their long loping strides took them out of sight once more and my head rested on the warm steering wheel as the car murmured beneath me. Out here, so many die. Healthcare is near and yet still so far away for so many. And all you can do is all you can do and sometimes all the waiting feels fruitless because people are dying and their souls are yet shrouded in darkness and firmly in the grasp of the enemy.

So finally they found her and the husband comes running back… Epunto aberu wadio. (She is coming slowly) and then he says softly, ekoku.. and makes an abrupt downward slashing motion with his hand. The baby is dead. His wife just had a miscarriage while walking alone through the bush. Not a tear passes his clear dark eyes, just the stoic face that confronts every tragedy in this hard land. That’s just how things are. These things happen. And the woman comes walking up slowly with a slight limp to her step… how many miles has she already walked this morning? No one can tell. The sadness touches at the corners of her eyes but stoic resignation is what she wears like the ashuka wrapped around her shoulders. The baby is dead but life must move on. And as I sit close to her and ask her name while Kelly bumps over bushes towards the hospital, only the softness of her voice hints at the pain she is feeling. And my heart breaks for her. I take her pulse and blood pressure and her vital signs are normal and that in itself is a relief. But she is still bleeding. We get her to the hospital but she must wait to be seen because there is only one doctor and the midwives are not yet there… and my heart and training rebel against the thought of this woman sitting in her pain… but I look around and see that I am surrounded by pain. And there on the next bed over is our friend, who has also been bleeding and doesn’t know if the little one growing inside of her for these past four months will make it through another night. I hold her hand and pray for her and offer to bring her what she needs? Soap for bathing and sugar for tea…so I promise to bring this when I return… And I have to walk away because I can’t heal everyone. I can’t help everyone. I can only do one small thing at a time and hope that it makes some kind of difference and pray my heart out- that God will see these hurts and bring his healing and somehow call these wandering hearts to himself.

Later when we went back to visit, the woman had still not been seen by a doctor and her husband talked of selling a goat to pay for the medicine and food his wife would need to get through this. I knelt beside her to pray for her again… And her stoic empty eyes looked past me like she was trying to be anywhere but here, sitting in her pain among a ward of mothers holding their newborn babies. And our friend, curled on her side in her bed, waiting for the next dose of medication and hoping against hope, with every beat of her heart, that a little heart still beats within her. I talked to the midwives and ensured both would be seen and cared for, but then I had to leave again. Because this is Africa, and there’s only so much us humans can do- the rest is in the hands of God alone.

So that’s what nursing in Africa looks like. We have seen many in the clinic, and we’ve been able to help with everything from malaria to respiratory infections and beyond… but sometimes there’s nothing anyone can do. Not the right supplies or training or healthcare facility available. But also knowing that if they were somewhere else in the world, maybe death wouldn’t have come calling so quickly. And that hurts like hell.

So for every patient we see, we pray for their soul. Because at the end of the day only healing from the inside out will bring any hope to these strong, stoic, hurting people.

a glimpse into the clinic with yellow walls

Pen scratching paper and halting words as I attempt to use my limited Karamojong to ask their name, age, village, and complaint… confused laughter mixing with the cries of another baby scared of the white person… tattered ashukas wrapping feverish little ones and hiding burns and breaks and various wounds… deep coughs and silent tears… with yellow walls reflecting the sunlight onto proud dark faces who came to this new clinic hoping for healing. And in the treatment room assessments are done, fingers are pricked, injections given, wounds tended to, babies held, diagnoses reached, treatments given, patients are educated, and many many prayers are lifted up for the hurting and hopeless souls that pass through the room with the yellow walls.

I wish I could fully put words to what it’s like to be a nurse here. Nursing school did not prepare me for this, and neither did years of Sunday School. Here the pain is raw and real and the needs are very apparent. Here some come simply hoping for cheap medicine. Others wait hours, bodies burning with fever or wracked by coughing, because each patient gets a full assessment and treatment and prayer and that takes so much time and effort rather than just tossing them whatever medicine they ask for like the other clinics in town. We try to triage but even then some are in the grip of severe malaria and the fever is not there and then mere minutes later it has climbed so high that their body is seizing with a fever of 105.2F. And like any ER in America you never know what will walk through the doors or what excitement the day will hold, but unlike America, we may or may not have the supplies to actually help the emergency. But seeing that in small ways we are saving lives- the girl with the high fever who immediately got care and an injection for malaria and medicine and cool cloths to bring her fever down is only one example.

This is not something I could ever do in my own strength. I don’t have that kind of education or wisdom, but I firmly believe that every day here is a step of faith. Only God can guide us to care for these patients in the way they need to be cared for. Out here there are no protocols or general practices or orders to fill… there is only the problem and the hurting person and a couple of nurses standing between sickness and hope with a bit of medicine and a heart full of faith in a Healer named Jesus who sees every bit of hurt and need before it even reaches their eyes. I see more of Jesus every time I go to work in the clinic and every time I walk to the village and hear people asking for medicine now that they know that I am a nurse. Imagine, with the heart of compassion that our Jesus has, how the crowds would flock to him begging for healing. And he, ever merciful, would see past their physical discomfort and into their hearts and offer so much more than physical healing- hope for their souls. I look at myself, often impatient and exhausted and see how much of that Jesus-love is lacking in me, but there is grace even in this. Because I am a work in progress and I do not choose to have faith and give love and show mercy in my own strength- it is by the grace of Jesus.

So sometimes I come home wearing baby pee or blood or the smell of unwashed skin, but these are small reminders that the humanity I get to brush shoulders with in that clinic are the very ones that Jesus would seek out to show love. My stethoscope hears the heartbeat of people who even still have yet to hear the gospel. And I am constantly reminded what a gift it is to be able to serve these strong, beautiful people in this small way. Every time I see the spark of surprise in someone’s eye and slight smile tug at the corner of their mouth when I offer to pray for them as they leave, my heart jumps- may even this one choose to seek Jesus. Because at the end of the day, medicine will fail to fix the problem and I want to point every person to the arms of the One who gives all the healing. Jesus.

I am officially a nurse among the tribal villages of the middle of nowhere Africa. It’s beautifully hard and daily pointing me to Jesus. I wouldn’t trade this life for anything else in this wide world.

clinic3

Pray that these people leave the clinic with a hunger and a hurt in their heart that medicine or food cannot fix- a desire to know and follow Jesus. Thank you for praying me through this journey. To God be all the glory forever and ever.

Much love.

thoughts from the garden

   
   
  
Here man wrestles with the earth- plow and oxen churning the soil into submission. Eyes looking expectantly to the sky for the coming rains. The greeting has changed to include, “How is your garden?” There’s a hopeful blanket of green weeds, needing the bending and pulling so the seeds have a chance to emerge into light. Since Adam, men have struggled with the earth, trying to till and sow and weed and harvest in such a way that they may share the fruit and benefits of their labor. But here is a land of thorns where the days are long and the soil seems especially tenacious. Today as I bent and wrestled the weeds from their clinging hold in the damp earth, my mind was filled with the metaphor of gardening and the kingdom of God. The weeds clung tight to the dirt, needing a firm pull to remove each piece from the hungry soil. Gardening is not a fast process; there is much time and care and effort spent on trying to give these little seeds- beginnings of life as it were- a chance to grow and thrive and by so doing offer sustenance for those who tend the garden. The hoe cuts through mud and turns the soil for the seed to be scattered and covered. Chickens and pigs are chased away and even the children join in pulling weeds and covering the scattered seeds to protect them from the scorching heat of the sun and the scavengers who would come and take what was planted. Everyone has a part in planting… and eyes eagerly search the horizon for the afternoon rains to come and bless what has been buried.
This soil of thorns seems to match the hearts of many of the people, but only because they have been taught by their culture a way of living that doesn’t cling to the sovereignty and hope of Jesus. But just as thorns can be uprooted, one at a time, to give life to the seeds hidden in their shadows, even here we are already seeing how God can change hearts and lives and bring new life to dry bones. We are but the ones who scatter seeds and look after a garden the Master is growing.

Many people spend days on their hands and knees when the rains come, panning for minuscule flecks of gold in the puddles of a dry riverbed. My heart cries for them to know the true Treasure that is even now in reach- “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” Matthew 13:44. 

My skin is slightly burnt and my back will be sore tomorrow. But the chance to spend time with friends in the garden- a physical reminder of all that we are praying for when we interact with these beautiful people- will be worth every blister. Here the garden is not some hobby, but the very sustenance of life. Much like the human souls with their thorns and hard ground, recent rains and weeds, seeds scattered and sprouted… this is the essence of life. This Treasure that should be planted in every heart is why we pray. This Treasure is why we go. This Treasure is a relationship with the Creator and Sustainer of life itself. 

“For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to sprout up before all nations.” Isaiah 61:11

hope for a Monday

Some Mondays call for strong coffee. Ok, all Mondays call for strong coffee. But some days we too easily forget the hope of Resurrection morning that we carry within us. Like Mary Magdalene when she went to the tomb- forgetting that Jesus said he would rise from the dead; she was looking for him in the wrong place- among the dead. “Dear woman, why are you crying?” 

Jesus is nearer than you realize. And that beautiful moment when Jesus calls her name and she sees him, really sees him for who he is– the Risen Savior. He is near and always calling us to himself… when we fail and falter, when we doubt and despair, when we struggle to hold onto hope… still He calls you Beloved. Oh dear heart, do you see the joy? You don’t have to figure this out on your own because the Cornerstone of our faith is alive and near.

“What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory- even us whom he has called, not from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? As indeed he says in Hosea, ‘Those who were not my people I will call my people, and her who was not my beloved I will call beloved. And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called sons of the living God'” Romans 9:22-26.

This is the hope of Monday. Following the glory of Sunday, the mundane Monday lends its own word of joy- You who were a vessel of wrath, hell-bound for destruction, He has made you a vessel of mercy

So for every person who wearily regards the week ahead and the tasks that seem too much for the time… He sees you. He calls you by name. His strength, not yours.

You who have received much mercy; give mercy. We are all only broken clay vessels searching for a bigger purpose to fit our lives inside… and for those of us who have found Him, may we go out proclaiming, “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18)

Choose joy this Monday.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. Romans 15:13  

ever up

To the weary traveler on this journey of faith: I see you.The wild reaches share the stories of sojourners passing through, some joyful and laughing, others weighed down by a backpack full of burdens and cares… many seeking a home that cannot be found in this earth. Wherever they are coming from, whether it is the field of Hope, Valley of Despair, River of Joy, or Forest of Fears… eventually all have to ascend the mountain. There’s a sign at the base: “It’s a steep journey up, leave your burdens here.” Some heed the warning, others continue on, carrying their packs like some sort of lifeline. 

The path up the mountain is called “Seeking” and lights in the trees mark the way- ever up. Some stumble along the way, some give up- is the journey really worth it? Some, who simply followed others to this place, whisper amongst themselves- What’s the big deal? Why do we have to take this path? The more experienced travelers say that here is where you meet with God, but the newbies are skeptical. 

Those still carrying burdens see another sign- “Come, strip off every weight that slows you down, especially the sin that so easily trips you up. Run with endurance the race God has set before you. Keep your eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.” Burdens are laid at the base of this, almost like a surrender of a life in disarray asking to be freed. Some stubbornly insist on carrying their packs- “I’m strong enough to make it, even with all this.” But the path keeps climbing and the underbrush thickens… not so many people traverse these upper regions of the mountain. 

Look there! It’s the compassionate man I have seen several times before… he’s always walking the wrong way down the path, looking for someone to help. Like that person! A few miles back that traveler scoffed at the burden sign but now he is stumbling with every step. So the man (I think they call him the Good Shepherd?) comes alongside him and takes his burden. He walks alongside the traveler for a while, and I guess the traveler decides those things he was holding so tightly don’t matter so much, because now there’s another pack discarded on the wayside.

We’re approaching the summit. There’s an almost tangible joy in the air and the light seems brighter through the trees. I see beside you and I, travelers who have journeyed far and somehow I know they are brothers and sisters. We greet each other like old friends and eagerly look forward to the ever-growing Light. As we get closer I see those who have finished their earthly journey. The Faithful Ones. They share stories of all they endured and give testimony to the faithfulness of God and the urgency of running the race. I feel their support, shoulder to shoulder with those of us still fighting our way up.

Continuing up, ever upward, closer to God. Forgiveness covers the ground like a blanket, absorbing the messy failures, stubbornness, doubting, fears, and despairing thoughts. And there He is. Welcoming each weary traveler with open arms, reminding us that we never were traveling alone. Even a glimpse of His glory takes my breath away and overcomes my heart with gratitude and joy. He reminds us to keep tasting that Living Water, choosing to trust His Presence is near as we walk forward. He shows the next step of the journey and reminds me of the many still wandering like lost sheep in the valleys, dying of thirst. Now is the time to move forward, to press on. There is breath yet in your lungs; the journey is not finished. He puts His love in my heart and I see in the distant reaches of the wild those who are struggling to find their way. He gives me the gift of Living Water to carry to them.

“Remember you are part of a kingdom unshakeable. Do not fear the obstacles you meet along the way.”

Now may the God of peace- who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, and ratified an eternal covenant with his blood- may he equip you with all you need for doing his will. May he produce in you, through the power of Jesus Christ, every good thing that is pleasing to him. All glory to him forever and ever! Amen. (Hebrews 13:20-21)
(( This allegory/word picture was inspired by Hebrews 12. Go read it! 🙂 ))

Hello from the other side… of busy

Stop the rushing.Slow down.

Smell the sunflowers.

But really, just stop. Be still.

Life in Africa is often nothing like what I expected it to be. You try to come with very few expectations, because shattered expectations just lead to disappointed hopes and discontent… but no matter how hard you try, there are usually some subconsciously hanging on under your radar. For me, I came with such urgency about the lost souls wandering in darkness and the sheer amount of work that needed to be done… and now, settling into “normal” days (as normal as living in Africa where every day looks different can be), I find that life cannot be rushed. “Simple” tasks will inevitably not be so simple and take way longer than you expect. There is much living to be done here, but very very few things can be rushed. My thoughts and plans about how things should be done and what I ought to accomplish are often fruitless. America says this is bad- productivity and efficiency are key. Africa says this is normal- everything will work out, people matter more. And looking back, I see that I have been rushing through life for the past 8 years. Running from one thing to the next, often multitasking, every year adding more things to my schedule until I’m enveloped in a whirlwind of busy that leaves no spare time for waiting. Ain’t nobody got time for that… 
Except actually, God is teaching me patience and it’s a very painful lesson for this chronically busy personality. And it’s good. There’s something about the waiting that builds the anticipation for the result. It requires steadfastness to continually seek Christ in the midst of the still not yet. Waiting requires investing in those waiting alongside you… and seeing the small victories as reasons to celebrate. 

Hello from the other side (yes, I’m singing Adele) …. of busy. 

It’s calmer here, sometimes boring. However, I don’t think it’s wasted. There is value in learning to be still and steadfast, looking forward to what’s to come with patient anticipation (yeah, I’m not there yet, but we’re working on it.) Because really, He cares a whole lot more about these lost souls than I do. So me rushing ahead will just mean greater opportunity for me to lose my way. I think I will wait on the Shepherd- he can see more clearly than this little sheep. Hello from the other side; maybe you can join me in this learning patience thing. I won’t blame you if you choose not to- it’s not the easy road. But I think that’s part of choosing the abundant life that I was talking about in my last post. If it gets me closer to Jesus… bring it on. (Hey, if this resonates with you and you feel like learning patience is a a thing God is working on your heart about, email me and tell me about it. I’d love to hear from you and pray for you in this …as I also pray for myself). Yay for friends along the journey!

“Be patient, therefore, brother and sister, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand… As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who have remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” James 5:7-11

So here are some small victories:
Language learning has started back and we are learning how to ask questions and form sentences. It is so much fun!

We are working on logistics for the Story Together project and things are sloooooowly coming together.

We have painted our house and made it more “homey.”

We are daily visiting villages or engaging in discipleship to practice our language and get to know the people.

I’m responding to emails (when the internet works)- huge victory since I had >1,000 in my inbox after training.

Today we communicated what we needed with a national for the upcoming project, using only Ngakaramojong, and she understood us! (With only minimal help from our language instructor. Win.)  
The other side of busy… it’s peaceful and joyful when you surrender to the “wait.”

abundant life

“Taking the cup of Christ is never easy… This. Life here, now. We just took the Lord’s supper here at Agok and I don’t think I have ever seen a truer expression of the body of Christ. As the cup passed from one to another and I look to see the faces as confession and encouragement meet, brothers and sisters are unified in Jesus and we share songs and a mutual understanding of the character of Jesus by seeing His love displayed in those around us. This is what it means to be the church. And for the first time my heart meets the truth of what it looks like to be the body alongside people from various tribes and tongues…” This is an excerpt from my journal from January 8, 2016. Though it was easy to pass the cup there, knowing what it represents and the life it calls us to is never far from our minds. The road will not be easy. Oh, but what abundant life awaits!

I realized sometime in the last few months how much we, as the church, miss out on because it is hard. But the biggest thing I think we miss, the most tragic and costly thing, is the abundant life that Jesus offers.

We have become complacent and far too easily pleased with what is handed to us as we fly through busy lives, rushing from one thing to another. The church gives us bits of holy to put in our pockets and carry around, to pull out when the stress mounts at work. But there is a glory that is missed entirely when we subsist on such lesser things. Do you know my Jesus? The One who has given us eternal life, abundant life, the Living breathing Word of God… and yet somehow we find Christianity boring and God mundane. But is that not just us, settling for less? When the sun rises in a red-gold orb, resting in the branches of the acacia tree as it continues it’s upward journey, slowly fragmenting the darkness…. can you not see there is more? The God who makes the sun rise and set in such splendor day after day, uncaring if human eyes see and appreciate the beauty… how much more does He want your life to show off His glory? Dear friend, I do believe this following Jesus thing is meant to be a glorious adventure. Really, I didn’t even need to come to Africa to find this adventure. But here I am. I don’t want you, however, to miss the adventure of following Jesus right where you are. To see the little joys and to choose to give thanks. To see people, really see people, and value the chance to connect with souls. These are not just beings using oxygen but people with stories who are made in the very image of God. To take God up on His offer to let you see His glory by reading His word and obeying what it says. To share the treasure that is within your heart, because what could be better than to share this abundance with others? 

I can promise you it won’t be easy. Does this scare you? Good. Me too. But if we look at the Bible and the examples presented there, this is as it should be:

“We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely on God, who raises the dead. And He did rescue us from mortal danger, and He will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in Him and He will continue to rescue us.” 2 Corinthians 1:8-10

We will always be climbing uphill, and He will always be giving us more. If we are faithful in the small things, He gives us more. And the weight seems maybe too heavy to bear, until you remember that you aren’t supposed to carry it alone. So keep putting one foot in front of the other. Smell the pine trees and hear the leaves crunch under your feet. Pull yourself up through those narrow boulders and let the sweat beading your brow show that you are owning this life thing. See glimpses of the neighboring mountains through breaks in the foliage. Find the joys along the journey. Patient endurance. Trusting God’s promises. You will reach heights you never dreamed of seeing, because living in obedience to God takes you to much more exciting places than you ever would have reached on your own.

I hope you find abundant life. There’s so much more of Jesus to see.