Friday, April 25, 2014

Meet our new friend, Ethan.

Ethan is a hero, through choice and dedication and long-term blood, sweat, and tears.  Ethan is a missionary who works with street kids in a gang neighborhood in Honduras.  Almost none of these kids have an engaged father.  Many of them don't know who their father is, and a few of them are orphans.  Ethan is the only father many of them will know.  He's the disciplinarian and the source of reward.  He teaches them how to behave, how to live without stealing, how to love.  Eight of the kids call him "Dad."  He has even taken one of them in, and spends much of his support money paying for the kids' school and clothing.  

Ethan works in a tough neighborhood.  When he drives in, if he doesn't give the proper signal, he finds a gun to his head, held by a gang member.  It has happened several times already.  Ethan has been tied up inside his own apartment and robbed, again at gunpoint.  He has delivered a eulogy for an 11-year-old kid, one of his Sunday School kids, who died due to violence.

Often we think of a hero as a guy running into a burning building to rescue someone.  That's a perfectly acceptable definition of hero.  But the "burning building" hero is finished with his deed in a few minutes and (hopefully) goes home.  Ethan is a more profound hero.   Ethan has been risking his life for years to save the lives of these otherwise hopeless kids.  He is currently back in the States, raising support to return to his work saving kids.  

Oh, by the way, Ethan is 23 years old.

Some young people are dissatisfied with the trajectory of their lives, dominated by electronics, and making little difference in others' lives.  Those folks would do well to ask the Lord for a job.  Perhaps He would give them a chance to be a hero, like Ethan.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Studying Hard at MTI

We're in our final week at Missions Training International.  It has been a highly fruitful time of superb training.  During the first two weeks, we concentrated on methods of language learning.  They showed us how to make our tongues and mouths create the most bizarre sounds.  Here are a couple of photos and videos of the training materials and drills.


The pronunciation drills were fun, but the language-learning games and processes were better.  Here's Martha following directions from world language-learning expert Dwight Gradin in the Vietnamese tribal language of Jeh.  
Dwight was one of a small team of missionaries who developed a system of writing for that language.  He is a master teacher.
During the last two weeks, we have been concentrating on cultural integration.  We have been involved in role-playing, simulations, and other imaginative means of teaching us how to thrive in our new home.  Here's a bridge-crossing exercise that may look sort of "summer camp-ish" but was actually packed with profound insights.  

 All of our instructors are former missionaries with extensive experience.  This has been a stellar month.  Helen and Meredith and James have been learning all day, too, in 'tracks' that are sometimes separate, sometimes included with Martha and I.  We are looking forward to putting our new training into practice in Kenya.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Training for New Servants at the Grand Household

We’ve arrived for our final training in the US prior to departure for Kenya.  Our destination for this trip is Mission Training International, in Palmer Lake, Colorado.  We are most excited. 
The COMPASS Course at MTI is universally praised as marvelous preparation for the Field.  The course lasts four weeks.  All of our interactions so far with the MTI folks have been wonderful and professional and gracious.  If I remember correctly, all of the instructors are former missionaries.  They will teach us how to integrate well with our new culture, how to learn language more effectively, and how to deal with some important situations. 
And, of course, it’s in Colorado.  None of our kids have ever seen the Rockies.  Martha and I will enjoy showing them the splendor of that part of God’s creation.  We will have some weekend time open, and hope to spend much of that time outdoors. 
When thinking about the preparatory training, I imagine that we’re like new servants, freshly hired to work in a fine 19th century manor house.  We’re elated to have been hired.  We know we’re not worthy to work there, but we so desperately want to do well to please the Master.  We know He is a wonderful Master, gracious and grand, and we want Him to find us obedient and diligent.  We need to be taught where to stand and how to dress and how He likes his pheasant prepared and how to treat His guests.  We know that He values integrity and honesty and courage and industry.  We know that we’re imperfect in those characteristics, but we’ll try so very hard.  And so we are overwhelmingly grateful for the training, so that we might have a better opportunity to succeed.

After MTI, we will spend the next two weeks in the “Grandparent farewell tour,” returning home on May 10th or so.  The next month will be our final push to pack up, close down the house, and be sure the older kids are tucked in.

Because we have a departure date!  The tickets are bought!  We fly out on June 11th and arrive in Nairobi the next day. We start work in the Master’s house soon afterward.  We are thrilled with anticipation and a bit apprehensive, hoping that we will be ready and able for our place in the Household.  We would be most grateful for your prayers to that end.  Onward, Upward!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Fair warning

I am grateful for a gracious reminder.

I work part-time in the emergency department of a hospital nearby, to cover our expenses so that everything donated to our WGM account will only be used when we're en route to Chogoria.  I was working in that local ER a few days ago, taking care of a fellow who was quite sick and becoming sicker.  He had a whole-body infection, termed 'sepsis,' and his blood pressure was dropping.  He needed a large IV in his jugular vein to give fluids and check internal pressures and give powerful blood-pressure-supporting medications.  This IV procedure isn't surgical, but is somewhat complex, requiring multiple needles, a scalpel, wires, sutures, and other devices.  Because the procedure carries some increased risk to the patient, including collapsing a lung, injury to the carotid artery and infection, we took extra precautions.  We prepared the area carefully and used large sterile drapes, and I suited up with sterile gown, mask, and gloves.  I also used ultrasound to visualize the vein and artery during the procedure, and was glad to have ultrasound available, because this patient's anatomy was somewhat different and I would have to insert the needles at an atypical angle.

I found his vein with the ultrasound, injected anesthetic, used the large-bore needle to enter the vein, threaded a wire through the needle, removed the needle, used a scalpel to open the skin around the wire, inserted a dilator and removed it, and threaded the IV catheter over the wire.  Then I pulled out the wire and used a syringe to pull out some blood to confirm placement.  All was going well.  Then, while holding the catheter and reaching for the suture needle, I felt a prick on my finger.  The bloody scalpel had fallen into a cavity of the tray and was lying blade-up.  I had cut my finger with the scalpel.

I paused to consider risk of contagion.  And my thoughts were not reassuring.  This fellow's medical record included many past visits to treat STDs.  And his white blood cell count had been low for the last couple of years, which could be a sign of HIV infection.

I finished the procedure, suturing the catheter in place, and cleaning up my mess, including policing up the needles and scalpel and other 'sharps' so our superb nurses and technicians wouldn't be injured by them.  Then off to the sink to wash as best I could, and then I reported the 'needle stick' to the charge nurse.  She and the rest of the staff were very good, completing lots of paperwork and drawing lots of blood from me and from our patient to check for hepatitis and HIV and other concerns. All of this is routine procedure for a 'needle stick.'

The more difficult part followed - waiting the few days for the test results, and ruminating about my foolishness.  The stick had occurred at about 1:00 in the morning.  I was tired and was sloppy with my 'sharps.'  I should have been much more deliberate with every piece of equipment that had touched my patient's skin.  What if he had HIV?  And what if he had hepatitis C?  That was actually the main risk, based on his history.  Hepatitis C could be very debilitating, even fatal.  Surely the Lord would not allow those infections, especially as we're preparing to go to the mission field.

On the other hand, we recently had the profound privilege to hear the story of a friend already on the field who had been raped and subsequently had a positive HIV test.  This friend's story of faith and deliverance is truly remarkable and miraculous.  Perhaps we can tell it someday.  But I could hardly claim some sort of right to protect me from those infections when I knew our friend's story.

Isn't blood interesting?  Life-giving.  The Bible says life is in the blood.  Lose too much and you die.  Astoundingly complex, containing proteins, clotting factors, antibodies, inflammatory mediators, infection-fighting and cancer-fighting cells, electrolytes, hormones, cellular fuels, buffers, and cells that carry oxygen and carbon dioxide, among hundreds of other things.  And sometimes infectious viruses.  When it carries those, blood can be death-giving.  What is profoundly good by design can be exceptionally dangerous when tainted.  Symbolic of all creation, I suppose.

Martha took the news well.  She prayed and I prayed.  I might have lost a little sleep about it, but not much.  My favorite verse is Isaiah 26:3.  "You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, for he trusts in you.  Trust the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord is the rock eternal."  I am very grateful for that peace.

And then came the phone calls from the very kind Occupational Health nurse.  First, about HIV.  Our patient's test was negative.  (So was mine, in case you were wondering.)  And, last night, the second phone call.  His hepatitis tests were negative, too.  Hallelujah.

I am very grateful for this event.  In prayer, I feel that I have received fair warning.  Or at least an important reminder to be much more careful.  We're going to a place with a very high incidence of HIV and hepatitis and parasites and other dangers.  I cannot be sloppy with my 'sharps' or with similar procedures, and must insist on my students' diligence as well, for their protection.  We can go with the best of intentions and unfortunately still make a mess of it, both for ourselves and others.  But we desperately don't want to do that.  We will still engage as best we can, but we will make ourselves diligent.  As innocent as doves and as shrewd as serpents.  Thank you, Lord, for the very kind reminder.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Proud of Meredith

Meredith is our just-turned-12 daughter.  She is a trooper.  Upbeat, always willing, looking for a way to help in a meaningful way.  Sometimes, she hides her worries.

Night before last, after being tucked into bed, she appeared again at our bedroom door, in tears.  Earlier in the week, she had heard about the terrorist attack at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.  She knew about the killings and explosions and woundings and all.  And she knows that we will be living in or near Nairobi when we're in language training, which is scheduled to occur a few months from now.  Hence the worry and the tears.

We talked for quite a while about the dangers of Nairobi and how we will deal with them.  We talked about the earthly issues (Nairobi is a city of 3 million people, and the terrorist attack last week hurt fewer than 300 (we think).  We will be following Embassy warnings and avoiding risky places.  Etc.)

But more importantly, we talked about the heavenly issues.  Jesus has all authority over heaven and earth (Mt 28).  We are told not to worry but to bring our requests to God, with the promise of His peace (Phil 4, Mt 6).

Also, this journey isn't a vacation.  We're 'deploying' on God's orders to help some magnificent people.  The mission is important.  And important work is rarely accomplished from the couch, free of risk.

Sometimes people tell us, "The safest place is in the middle of God's hands." And sometimes they're really wrong, and sometimes they're really correct.

When they mean "No bodily harm will befall you when you're a servant of God,"  they're quite wrong.  Anyone who knows the history of the biblical Apostles knows that.  They lived lives of shipwreck, imprisonment, torture, and violent death.  Those risks did not end with those Apostles, as we know from the stories of Jim Elliot and so many contemporary Saints who are tortured and killed for their faith.

But they're correct if they mean, "Even in physical peril and death, the Child of God is secure and safe in knowing his or her destination."  We hope and expect to hear, "Enter into the joy of your master."

Meredith heard this very difficult lesson, smiled, gave us a hug, and went back to bed.

The very next day (yesterday) she and James studied Swahili (Kiswahili, for you purists).  They made post-it notes for their vocabulary words, attaching them to representative objects or drawing illustrative pictures.

Despite the very real concerns of the World, Meredith trusts in the Most Powerful, and is doing her best to prepare for her new life in Kenya.  She sings as she studies.  She makes the learning fun for her brother.  I am very proud of my Meredith.

There are dangers.  But God has all authority.  And in the midst of difficulty and pain and risk and loss and cost and even death, we can look forward to His overwhelming lovingkindness.  How blessed indeed we are to be Children of God!

By the way, today (Oct 1) is Meredith's 12th birthday.  I know she would love to hear your encouragement.  Feel free to leave a comment for her.

Monday, September 30, 2013

I love this painting, the Good Samaritan by Vincent Van Gogh.  He painted it in 1850, while a patient in an asylum.  He was struggling, and found solace and direction in his artistic meditations. 
The painting is dense with meaning.  The Samaritan is himself struggling, awkwardly pushing the ambushed and injured Jewish man onto his donkey.  The Samaritan has given up his place of relative comfort on the donkey and has emptied his chest treating the man with oil, wine, dressings, and clothes. But the Samaritan man isn’t glorified.  His face is in shadow, and his leg serves as a step-stool for the Jewish man. 
The injured man doesn’t even appear to be particularly grateful to the Samaritan.  His countenance is heavenward, which is more appropriate.  The priest and the Levite, who should have stopped to help a fellow Jew, pass by on the road, ignoring the need and the struggle. 
Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan after a Jewish lawyer asked,  “Who is my neighbor?”  After telling the Parable, Jesus asked “Which of these three proved to be a neighbor…?”  The answer was, “The one who showed compassion toward him.”

Let us be compassionate toward our neighbors, regardless of where they are and regardless of their acknowledgement and regardless of the attention of others.  The One who sees and remembers our compassion is He who taught us about compassion and showed the greatest compassion of all.