Friday, December 2, 2011

Monday, November 14, 2011


Failure. Memories of it haunt. Fear of it paralyzes. The reality of it shatters.

The very meaning of the word "fail" means to be unsuccessful and broken. It hurts to feel broken. It hurts more when there is no one to blame but myself. I try to do better, but my "try" isn't enough. It is then that a sense sweeps over me of having reached the end of the road. Despair breaks some invisible dam in my soul and flash floods every part of me. I'm defeated. There is no room left to pretend. My self-confidence is stripped away. My conscience is raw like a skinned knee and my guilt is like sandpaper scrubbing at it mercilessly.

In that moment, when all I can do is cover my face and huddle in a corner, it is hard to see how any positive result could ever come from it. There wouldn't be any way out, it would truly be the end of the road, if it wasn't for an ancient promise. Thousands of years ago the Divine Ruler of the universes made an amazing promise to "give beauty for ashes."Isaiah 61:3

Ash is all that is left when something is destroyed; utterly ruined. It is the result of something not just being overcome, but consumed. It is true. When I choose to fall when I could have stood, when I deny Christ with my actions, I am nothing more than ashes on the ground. Overcome. Burned. Consumed. Where is the beauty?

This is the beauty - that God comes to the gray, powdery ashes of what was me and breathes back life. He doesn't even just restore me to my previous form, but raises me so much higher. God loves this work. Nothing brings Him more joy than to take one so spiritual defeated and raise them up to be a radiant son or daughter of the Most High.

Are you ashes? Never forget you can be made beautiful.

Are you made beautiful by grace? Never forget you were once ashes.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Daughters Eyes

This is my thoughts recently expressed with pencil lead and paper.

How tenderly our Heavenly Father looks on us! How do we look at Him?

Friday, October 14, 2011


These are my parents.

The beaming, lovely one in blue is my Mum. The dashing one with the mischievous smile is my Dad.

I always thought him very handsome despite his receding hairline and forever evolving mustache/goatee/beard combinations. In my opinion he fit the (moderately)tall, dark and handsome bill to a tee.

Deliberate, a thinker, quiet yet funny. Two of the main things I remember about him was his dry humor and belly laugh. His puns, play on words and "Far Side" way of thinking made life more fun.

He was the kind of dad that loved to dote on his kid. There wasn't much he enjoyed more than getting me my favorite treats or taking me out horseback riding, swimming etc.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I'm writing about Dad because I kind of miss him right now. I miss the cool things about him that made him amazing. The "daddy-role" has been vacant for quite a few years now, but I still think of him and about dads in general. I love seeing Dad's interact with their kids. There is a special relationship there, like none other.

Dads are so important. They have incredible impact on our lives. I don't fully understand all a godly dad is to his kids, but I do know he gives a sense of protection and security. I do know he shows them a picture of God. I do know boys find a role model and girls find unconditional love.

Many don't have this because of divorce, death or the poor choices of the father himself. Many don't know what it is to have a father that loves, shelters and encourages them. Thankfully there is One who promises to be a "father to the fatherless" (Psalm 68:5).

If you're one of those who have never known what it means to have a father you trust and rely on, let me assure you... God is the Dad you've always wanted.


Hello October

I've been waiting for you.You are looking beautiful these days. Don't rush off too fast. Stay as long as you like. Lets blow on our hot apple cider together and think of great and wonderful things. You, my friend, make me especially thankful.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


Took a walk through the book of Hosea recently and found a tender love the shook me and captured my heart all over again.

He knew all she had done and still took her back, hit rewind and said "lets start over, will be just like the beginning. I was crazy about you then, I'm crazy about you now. I love you for you, not for what you have done or what you'll become."

I don't know about you, but that is a love I can rest in - blissfully.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Baked Stuffed Apple

So this may not look that great, but let me assure you it is delicious! On a whim, after putting some cinnamon raisin rolls in the oven, I decided I wanted to try baking apples.

Despite the fact I forgot them in the oven, they turn out warm and yummy! If you wish to try my experiment here is how:

First Step

Cut the core out of 4 hardy apples with a knife.
*Keep the Apples whole or else you won't be able to stuff them!

Deliciousness Inside

2 Tablespoons of peanut butter of choice
Handful of crunchy Walnuts
Chopped dandy Dates
Some dried grapes (aka. raisins)
A good squeeze of sticky Honey

Now just fill the apples with filling, set 'em on a cookie sheet (they like to roll around, they are spunky that way) and pop them in the oven at 375 - 400 F.
Check them after 15 min.

Enjoy the wafts of baking apple...Mmmmmmm

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Beginning

Where there is an "end" there is always a "beginning". Simple concept yet so profound.

When I stepped off the plane, toting my green backpack, a "beginning" was waiting for me. I began to regain my health. I began to reconnect with friends and family. I began to adjust. Now I'm almost a month into this new chapter. Everything is much the same, but much different. I find myself asking: What's next? Where to from here?

New beginnings are interesting things. They can be inspiration and beautiful like a sunrise. They can also be uncomfortable like new shoes. They have such great potential and yet also possess the rumblings of uncertainty. They are the times where life's soundtrack builds and you're left in nail-biting suspense of what will happen next. Thankfully I have a wonderful Narrator and I've dispensed with the nail-biting as unnecessary.

Those who wait on the Lord have this blessed assurance: Everything will be OK. New beginning may have you asking lots of questions, but thankfully God's got plenty of answers. Just you wait and see.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The End

Tomorrow I'll be boarding a bus that will take me far from this town and these people. Can my time here really be nearly finished? My mind is not ready to grapple with that thought. This five-and-a-half months doesn’t seem to fit any concept of time. It’s been both short and long. The sheer volume of things I have learned, experienced and felt . . . how could it all have happened in such a short span time? I’ve no idea.

I've begun realizing the loss I will feel when I leave. I came here and did my best to take these people and this land into my heart. Only now do I realize how successful I've been. They are a part of me and now I'm faced with leaving a part of myself behind. Now I can neither stay nor leave without being separated from people I care about.

I love the wide open spaces, the violent rainstorms, and the thatched huts; but it is the people that will make it hard to get on that bus. It's the people I'll be thinking about as my plane takes off from Ndjamena. A few months ago, these people were just unfamiliar faces. Now they have names and personalities. Now I call them brother and sister. Now we joke and laugh. Now we sit on benches and talk about life, family, the future, and God. The patients who became my friends—or even the people I shared a smile with at the market . . . it’s not going to be easy to leave these people. Leaving without knowing if I'll ever see them again is difficult.

I find myself often talking about Heaven. I tell them I want Jesus to come soon because then we can all be together again. All over the world I have spoken hopefully of this with friends I've had to leave. Leaving Africa gives me yet another reason to want that Day to come very soon.

My time in Africa has been one of the greatest gifts of my life. Alone, as just one person, I came to love and give to Africa, but through many, many people Africa has loved and given to me. What I've contributed seems very small, but what I have gained is very large.

Now the God who led me here is the One leading me on. I'm sad. I'm happy. I'm thankful. I'm at peace.

Postscript: 3 John: 13, 14


I had been laid up in bed most of the day recovering from my 4th bought of malaria. Now I lay in bed reading, when I realize there is a glow in the Friday evening sky. Propping myself up on one elbow I peer through the window. Distant thunder is sounding and a wind is whirring in the trees. I must go see.

In moments I am slipping on my Chaco sandals and heading out into the courtyard. Unmindful of my maroon pj pants, lime nursing t-shirt, and tousled bed hair, I stride toward the rear gate. I want to see.

When I step into the field I forget about my headache and tired legs. A massive black thundercloud has settled in the far horizon looking almost like a tornado several miles wide. The sun has set behind it giving the monstrous storm, fiery orange backlighting. A cold earth-scented wind blasts my face and stray raindrops splash my forehead and arms. Just then a multi-branched bolt of lightning crackles down the center of the cloud. I catch my breath and feel awe-struck. There are smaller storm clouds to both the right and left. All of them are flickering and flashing with lightning. No one else is in sight. I'm alone in the field, alone in my amazement. I simply stand there, watching, being blown by the wind.

I'm lost in my own thoughts when I suddenly sense, more than hear, the sound of padding little feet. I glance over my shoulder and see a little boy. I smile as I lightly grasp his outstretched hand. He shyly smiles back. Silently he joins me. In a very little voice he asks, first for my clothes, then for my shoes.

"They’re too big for you. Sorry," I answer back with amusement. Then, to get his mind onto other things I look up and say

"The sky is beautiful isn't it?"

He looks up. His solemn dark eyes seem to take it in all at once. "Oui" he murmurs in the same soft voice.

A bolt of lightning again rips through the dark storm cloud and I excitedly exclaim "Wow! Look!"

Slowly a grin creeps over his quiet features, as if he has discovered an excellent secret. He is the first one to see the next one. His little arms shoots out as he crows "There!"

I gasp with amazement. With eagerness he scans the sky for the slightest glimmer of nature’s fireworks. He points out one to the right as I point out one to the left. We both see a big one straight ahead. It’s so big I pretend to jump behind him in fright. He giggles. We are together in the field and together in our amazement. We simply stand there, watching, being blown by the wind.

After a while, I notice the increasing darkness. Turning to my lightning-watching buddy I simply say "I need to go back now."

"OK," he says. I shake his hand and turn to go. As I walk away he calls after me his name. I tell him mine.

"Tomorrow," he says with a smile.

"Tomorrow," I smile back, then walk home through the wind. Back at the house I crawl back into bed, richer than when I left.

Soft mattress or dirt floor, fresh fruits or bouille, a bucket spit-bath or a shower— living conditions mean very little now. People, smiles, relationships, words of encouragement or sympathy, shared experiences and laughter—these are the things that make me rich. Eternally rich.

Thursday, July 14, 2011


I am different now. There have been some changes during my time in Africa. I have a big round scar on my right calf from a motorcycle exhaust pipe. My hair has grown a couple inches longer and now has two white *quinine stripes near the roots. My feet have some new tan lines. I speak some French and have picked up a few African expressions and mannerisms.

Yes, I'm different now, but these changes will not last. They are only outward changes of speech and appearance. My scar will fade. The white stripes in my hair will eventually grow out. Tans vanish quickly and sadly my pigeon French will gradually become rusty pigeon French. If these were the only changes I would just be temporally different. After a little while it would be just as if I had never gone away.

There have been other changes in my life however . . . deeper changes. Not surprising, is it. I remember hearing people returning from mission experiences. They all said the same thing: "It changed my life forever!" It is nice to hear. We all smile and nod our heads approvingly. Many of us have told people preparing to go out into the field "You will be changed forever!" It seems we all know there is something transforming about the mission experience. Now here I am writing a blog about being "forever changed," adding my voice to the thousands of others. I have nothing new or earth shaking to add. I only hope you hear the meaning behind the familiar words.

When I say I'm forever changed, what I'm trying to say is I've been shattered to pieces and rebuilt again. I've faced personal failure and seen Christ's success. I've bled in order to love. I've been humbled, humbled and humbled again until my pride is shredded, but my trust is stronger. I've been led to Abraham’s alter and struggled to surrender. I've felt attacked by hell and cried for heaven. I've wanted to run, but seen the beauty I would have missed had I left. I've been nearly swallowed by fear and surprised by courage I didn't own. I've thought I was dying only to find I was coming back to life. I've begun to learn things I thought I knew and know things I only wondered. My love has become deeper, questions more searching, joy more vivid and peace less dependent on circumstances. I am changed. Next time you see me I'll just look ordinary, but though I look like the same person who left five-and-a-half months ago, I'm different inside. God has been at work. I am so far from being finished, but the light keeps getting brighter.

We all are on this journey. God is rearranging and forming us as we give Him room in our lives. Do not think there is anything magical about Africa or any one place. He is everywhere. He is beside you now. Think about it. The most incredible Change Force is hovering over you at this moment, full of light and love. Sometimes like a hurricane, sometimes like softly falling rain -- it is ever seeking to take you beyond. No matter how far He has brought you, there is always more. The journey never ends, yet you continually arrive at home. Home is God.

Seek Him. He isn't far. You will be forever changed.

Thursday, July 7, 2011


The day begins.

I awake to the familiar sound of crowing roosters and clucking guinea hens. At 5:30 am the light is just beginning to glow in the sky. I hear the dogs stir and know they will soon be whining for me to take them for their morning walk. A new day has officially begun.

When I step out into the morning cool I am once again reminded why I choose to ignore my desire to stay in bed. The village is quiet and there is a generalized hush despite the guineas and roosters. Once we get beyond the soccer field I glance back over my shoulder toward the hospital compound. The sun has risen over the towering mango trees and appears as a large rose-colored disk. Unwilling to take my eyes off it I walk backward for a good many steps. The rosy glow lights up the African plain in an enchanting way. This is a wild and beautiful land. It makes you want to breath, stretch your arms out and be at peace.

An hour later I am dressed for work and striding through the hospital gate. Without any plan or assignment I wander about to find the department most in need of help. I find it: Maternity. Once again they are overflowing with more patients than beds. This is becoming a habitual situation. They will need to expand soon. Many patients are in need of special attention. There are two ladies in labor, a woman with malaria whose Hg is 5.3, and a women with a high fever. One of the laboring women begins displaying signs of pre-eclampsia. Her BP has climbed for 140/100 to 166/110. She becomes restless. We check the fetal heart rate every 30 minutes with a horn-looking device you press on their belly while smashing your ear to the other end. Unfortunately I do not know the official name of this dandy device, but it makes me feel very old-fashioned. Within an hour the baby's heart rate begins dropping. The family is called in to obtain permission for a C-section. They refuse because they have no money. They are informed the government will pay—no cost to them. They still refuse. The doctors, nurses, chaplain, and random eaves-droppers try to reason with them. No use. They leave. I have little hope for the baby and only hope she survives. I have seen at least one other like her die. In the mean time I am kept busy caring for other patients and putting out fires. It is a bit on the stressful side. Beings this is my first day back working as a nurse since I began my painting projects, I wonder if I have just forgotten what nursing is like here, but then decide this is just a particularly busy day. All the patients seem to have no money. I spend much of my day running about filling out and processing the government form for free medicine. This option has not always been available. I am grateful for it, even if the process is complex and difficult.

At the end of the day I leave work late, feeling a tiredness of body and spirit. I stop by the house only to empty my pockets and leave my stethoscope. The sky is turning dark and distant thunder is rumbling. Straight away I head to my African family’s house for a visit. Arriving at their little compound, I clap and peer around the tin door. Two little children, Skirkah and Bezo spy me and announce my arrival while doing a little dance. I'm happy to see them, too. We sit on the mat together and enjoy a meal of bouille and a peanut sauce. All the while the wind is whipping with more gusto, thunder rumblings are closer and I expect rain to fall any moment. Finally the first few drops splatter the dry sand. There is a bustle of activity as everyone relocates important objects inside. We all pile into one of the huts just as the storm hits with all its fury. The kids squeal with excitement and are bouncing off the hut’s sparse furnishings. Their excitement is contagious. We sing and dance together. At one point the lightening becomes especially intense. Bezo retreats to my lap and Sido huddles close to my side. I decide this is a good time to burst into song, and a peppy version of "Favorite Things" ensues. This seems to restore the sense of fun and good-cheer. We have a song-singing fest that lasts the rest of the storm. I try to sing along with their songs, but am generally unsuccessful. The best one is a song about the family of God. The last part says, "if you are my brother shake my hand and if you are my sister give me a hug." We all try to shake hands and do lots of group hugs. At one point Bezo and Sido head-butt as they both try to hug me. They fall back laughing hysterically. I attempt to read them a story in French about an elephant and hippopotamus who played tug of war. All in all we have a lovely time. When I walk back to the hospital they accompany me, a child on each hand. I don't want to think of leaving them, so I don't for the moment.

As promised, I stop by the hospital to check on the night shift. They're short of help, so I go home and change back into scrubs. I am very tired, but I keenly remember what it’s like to be in their place. Not long after, a woman in labor arrives at Maternity. Assuming she is a normal case, I help her up on the delivery table. When I lift up her skirt I catch my breath and call for the other nurse to come quickly. Although the woman's membrane had not ruptured, she had delivered a portion the size of a cantaloupe. I’m not exactly sure what this means, but lose all hope for the baby. The other nurse immediately pops the membrane with a needle to begin draining it. I see something dark in it, and soon realize it's the dark blue arm of a baby—the only part of the baby showing. At first it seems a C-section might be necessary, but the nurse-on-duty skillfully delivers the limp baby in no time. It is a pitiful sight. Something deep inside me hurts and aches. The floor is literally swimming in pools of blood. I’m grateful I’m there to help. Cleaning up such a mess at night is unpleasant and difficult. For the next hour we rinse, mop and disinfect. I wince a little when soapy, bloody water slosh into my crocs, but breathe a satisfied sigh when it is all cleaned up. Before giving out meds, I rinse my feet and crocs with bleach water. By 10 pm I have done all I can to help the nurses. All that’s left to do is wait for midnight meds. Instructing them to call if they need me for anything, I go home to get some sleep.

Before crawling into bed, I eye a package that arrived unexpectedly that afternoon. There hadn’t been time to open it before heading to the hospital. I know I can’t sleep until I open it, so I settle myself on the couch with a pair of scissors. I oh and ah with delighted surprise as I unpack the food mixes and other goodies it contains. Inside I also find a personal letter from a lovely woman of God whom I have never met, yet who obviously cares for me. Praise God for a wonderful Student Missions Coordinator! I also open a letter from a friend, and a card from my mom. My heart is encouraged, my face full of smiles. I go to bed conscious of God's great love for me, and fall asleep with thoughts of how blessed I am.

The day ends.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Clouds, Stars, & Posters

The Project . . . continued. . .

Turning the maternity's blue ceiling into a sky took a whole day of wielding a sponge. I found it to be a very enjoyable pastime. I have long loved clouds, and now was my chance to create best puffy clouds I could manage. Overall this goal was met with the exception of one cloud that turned out the shape of a Dorito chip. This was remedied with a few extra swipes of the sponge. Watching the ceiling’s transformation, the patients seemed confused. Why was I ruining my lovely paint job by smearing white paint all over it? However, after the 2nd cloud was completed, the light dawned.

"Is that a cloud" ask one lady shyly, with a look of amazed wonder.

"Yes it is!" I affirmed, excited that it was recognizable.

From then on they watched with silent interest as the sky took shape above them. With similar interest they observed me mixing the yellow paint and creating a sun shining out from behind two clouds. As I was gathering up my things and heading out the door that evening, a patient called to me in French.

"It is beautiful!"

I smiled. "You like it?" I ask happily.

"Yes! I like it! It is very good."

"Thank you!" I beamed. "Now you can pretend you are outside even when you are inside!"

She smiled widely.

Armed with a butter container of yellow paint and a small paintbrush, I climbed the ladder in the delivery room. My goal for the day was to turn this dark blue ceiling into a night sky. I had painted clouds the previous day. Now it was time to add some "starlight." My paintbrush poised, I suddenly realized I had no idea how to paint stars! I bowed my head briefly and asked for a little help from the One who knows the most about star-making. The first one I tried morphed into a shooting star, due to a slip of the paintbrush. Oopsy! After a few stars that looked a bit challenged and awkward, I began getting the hang of it. In a moment of inspiration I decided to try painting some constellations--Orion and the Little Dipper--in hopes some imaginative mind might see them. At the end of the day I flopped down on the delivery table and attempted to count the golden stars in my night sky-scape. At least 170! My mind said "Wow, that’s unbelievable!" My neck and arms said, "Yup, we knew it!"

Throughout the day people stopped by to observe and share encouraging comments. They certainly know the art of appreciation. It made my job twice as enjoyable! I finished off the day by painting a big crescent moon. Satisfied, I walked home stiffly with a kinked neck and happy heart.

I have mentioned in previous posts how mothers often give their babies water instead of breast milk. The lack of nutrition has disastrous, sometimes fatal, results for the little tikes. In my first few months I often heard Danae bemoan this fact and wish for a picture which would show these women the terrible effect this has on their babies. Many of these women cannot read and she felt a pictorial representation would be the most powerful way to communicate the lesson. Though I am no art major, I determined to do what I could. For the past few days I have been working on making three posters to hang in the maternity ward. One depicts a woman with a very chubby, healthy baby who breast-feeds. Another shows a women with a skinny, near-death looking baby trying to give it a glass of water. The third poster will contain a simple explanation, written in both French and Arabic, for those who can read. These will be framed and hung in the ward. My prayer is that these posters will be instrumental in saving some babies’ lives.

More to come
I am returning to my work as a nurse tomorrow. The tile for the delivery room must be purchased at Moundou at a later time. Already there has been such a positive difference. Let me once again thank all those who contributed to this project! It is not over yet, but at every step of the process I am amazed at God's goodness.

Editor’s Note: As you know, Heather had hoped to provide mosquito nets for patients in the hospital. Due to resistance from the hospital staff, this part of the project is being postponed until support from the local nursing staff can be won. Instead, at the request of the OB/GYN, the money will purchase tile to cover the floor and lower half of the walls in the delivery room, making it easier to keep the area clean and sanitary.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Solution

When human kind finds a problem, it immediately sets out to find its solution. If something is wrong, we have a drive to make it right. But what happens when you are confronted by something unfixable--unsolvable? How do you deal with a terrible cycle you are helpless to break?

Early this morning I was reading in the book of Colossians, when my quiet time was broken by the unmistakable sound of wailing--another death at the hospital. This is a common occurrence. I paused a moment, prayed for the family, and attempted to proceed with my reading, but the wailing grew in intensity until it could no longer be ignored. My meditation was completely halted. All I could hear was the anguished wailing as more and more people took up the cry. It was sobbing, repetitive and chilling in its despair. I didn't know who had died or why, but the wailing filled my heart with pain until it hurt. I was suddenly hit with a nameless guilt. Maybe I should have been over there helping. Maybe I could have done something. Maybe this death could have been prevented. However, this oppression lasted but a minute. Deep down I knew there was most likely very little I could have done. As medical professionals, we do all we can, but too often it just isn't enough. We give them blood, I.V. fluid, and what medications are available, yet it does not save them. The people come in too late. No amount of treatment can bring them back. The sense of helplessness and senselessness made me angry. I felt I couldn't listen to the hopeless wailing another minute without being able to do something to fix it. Oh how it hurt that I couldn't save this person from dying. I almost wished they would go somewhere far away to wail, so I wouldn't have to be continually confronted with my own inabilities to fix the system.

This place has a terrible cycle of disease and death. I, a trained medical professional, am helpless to stop this cycle. No matter how many hours worked, or pounds of medication given, or mighty heroic measures taken, the cycle continues. There’s no end in sight, humanly speaking. The never-ending-ness can be overwhelming.

There is one, and only one, solution capable of stopping this vicious cycle of death. It is Jesus Christ coming back to earth. Only then will children stop dying of malaria or having their hands scalded for stealing food. Only then will killer epidemics be ended and wailing be no more.

I want to hasten Christ coming in any way I can. I can’t wait for this cycle to be broken and this problem to be eternally solved.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Specked With Paint

The project is underway! God opened doors and provided far more abundantly than I thought possible! I was hoping for $300 max, but the amount sent my way was more than double that amount! We truly serve the Father of Lights from whom all good gifts come! Today was my third day painting. So far I have been able to finish painting the maternity nurse's office, a patient room, and the main maternity ward.

Before I started, the maternity ward had dirty, peeling, butter-colored walls and ceiling. I have painted the walls a clean, bright white. As of today the ceiling is a light sky blue. Once it dries I will paint a sun and clouds. Once this is done I will tackle the delivery room. Danae requested the delivery room be furnished with white tile on the floor and halfway up the walls to aid with cleanliness. She then requested the wall portion and ceiling be painted a dusky midnight blue to imitate a night sky. It will be complete with clouds, a moon and stars. I've never tried anything like this before, but think it will be fun! She also ask me to paint a stork on the wall carrying a baby in a sheet....we'll have to see about that.

Throughout the day, the nurses and the patients’ families come by to see me paint. They lavish encouragement and "thank you's" on me. They are very grateful people. I wish you could hear what they say. Here are a few of their comments translated into English:

"Thank you!"

"It looks so pretty! This is very good!"

"This is so much better!"

"I really like it!"

Just knowing what they say isn't enough. I wish you could see their smiles and expressions of happy surprise. Having a clean, cheery work environment changes everything for both staff and patients.

Thank you for making this possible!

Further updates will follow.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Snapshots of Life

It was a Friday and my supply of edible things was getting uncomfortably low--time to make a run to the Market. Armed with my trusty backpack, I set off on my short hike of about a mile. First I head down an alley past Samedi's house and take a path angling to the left. At the big mango tree I turn right and head for the big soccer field. I step aside briefly to let an ox cart pass by. People, old and young, greet me along the way. Some nod a short "salute," while some kiddies run out screaming, "LAPIA!" with both little hands raised. I return the greeting and savor the feeling of community. Once across the soccer field, I pass the government school and --"viola!" -- there is the market. I stop by Abdullaie's. He is a Muslim shop-keeper who always has good change. I only need some cubes of seasoned salt, but I must first sit on his bench and visit. I enjoy it. He gives me some cold water from his ice-chest and 30 minutes later I'm on my way with my seasoned salt. My next stop is the fresh food section of the market where I buy onions, a cucumber and some peanut oil. In a moment of bravery, I buy a local green called "low-zeh"--my Anglicized version of the name. Tammy Parker had once described how to prepare it and I want to give it a try.

Back home I pull all the round leafs off the stalk and wash them. Thankfully Tammy happens by and walks me through the process. Fifteen min later I have some delicious “low-zeh” sauce to put on rice. I am so proud of it! As I sit enjoying my creation, I plan how I might make it in America.

Midnight and Sheba whine at the door and give me a pitiful look. Midnight and Sheba are the two dogs that belong to the Netteburgs. With the Netteburgs back in the States, the dogs have become my personal charges. "Ok girls, let's go," I say as I reach for their leashes. This announcement causes a small earthquake of excitement as the dogs jump and yip with pent-up glee. It is evening and the heat of the day is giving way to pleasant coolness. As soon as the dogs pull me through the compound gate, I stop in awe. The sky is covered by a bank of dark clouds. The evening sun, though hidden, is scattering golden sun-rays all along the African savannah. As we enter the vast, empty field behind the hospital, the panoramic sky stretches high over me. I am nearly swept away by the beauty of it all. I soak it in with a grateful heart.

It’s early morning. I'm about to take a shower, when my foot touches a rather odd something. Glancing down, I can't tell exactly what it is, so I get some toilet paper to pick it up. My still-sleep-fogged eyes finally focus on the glassy stare of a lizard’s head. If you know me well, you know the great shock this “dead reptile encounter” was to my system. After a big *GASP,* I threw the unfortunate critter’s offending part into the nearest trash bin, all the while breathing threatenings about throwing the cats out of the house. Upon closer inspection I find the lizard's tail and dispose of it in like manner. The offending cats have also been known to leave bat wings and skulls in the bathroom. Now a poor lizard’s head and tail. I’ll be sure and check the floor next time.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Beautiful Paradox

How can a country so capture my heart when it has also broken it? How can a land so harsh and unforgiving have such exquisite beauty? How can I one moment wonder how I can live here and the next wonder how I can live anywhere else? How? Such is the paradox of life in Africa. I don't know how it manages it, but I do know this wonderful and strange country has woven itself through my soul. It is no longer just a country I can visit and then leave. It has invaded deeper and has become a part of me.

I realized this just today while sitting under a grass thatched-roofed veranda in Zakouma Wildlife Preserve. As an unexpected gift from God I was given the opportunity to visit Zakouma instead of take my planned trip to Ndjamena. As soon as the small plane touched down on the dirt runway, I knew I had found somewhere special. Never have I been more remote. It’s a feeling beyond description to be surrounded by nothing but miles of African Savannah. You know those times you come to a new place, but feel you've been there before? Zakouma is just such a place. It has provided the time and distance needed for me to think and reflect. As I sat soaking in the peace and breathing in the sweetest air I've ever smelled, my mind wandered over the last 3.5 months of my life. Scenes passed before my mind’s eye.

I was once again sitting on a mat with an elderly Nangere woman, exchanging Lapia's. We cannot communicate through usual means, but manage to communicate things like interest, laughter and goodwill. Later she joins me on the bench I'm sitting on. Murmuring something in Nangere and with smiles beaming from her aged eyes, she places a loving hand on my lap. Smiling back I take hold of her hand and give it a loving squeeze. We sit holding hands for the longest time. We adopted each other for the evening. In that moment I was content, comfortable, and settled.

Then I saw an Arab woman tenderly holding her only surviving triplet. I was once again greeting her family and being dazzled by their smiles. I remember them laughing as I dug through 5 layers of brilliant clothes in order to find the little tike. I remember her giggling with giddiness as she fingered my hair when I took it down for them to see. I recall the many times I have passed the maternity department and found her sleeping with her baby beside her. Standing there watching her sleep, I am nearly overcome with something best described as love and tender regard. They are special to me.

I thought of the beautiful afternoon walk I took in the soccer field, when the sky was resplendent with clouds. I thought of my African family, my nursing friends, and all the animated discussions we've had. This place has ceased to be a mere dot on the map. It has become a place in my very soul. As a popular saying would put it, you can take the girl out of Africa but you can’t take Africa out of the girl. I don't yet fully comprehend how much I’ve changed while here. Only time will tell. I know some of my happiest moments have been here in Tchad. Riding on top of the jeep in Zakouma I could hardly wipe the smile off my face. I felt so free and happy. I have also had some of my saddest and scariest moments here--times when I thought I might die or break in two.

It is a paradox, but a beautiful one.

Simply put - I love these people - I love this land - I love Africa.

Making a Mark

Being here in Africa for such a short time has made me think seriously about my days. I feel driven to make the most of every opportunity for service, and to create opportunities if they don't exist. I only have so much time to make a difference and leave my mark. The thought that in a matter of weeks an ocean will separate me from these people, makes me feel like I'm in a race with time to accomplish all I possibly can. In quiet moments I often find myself jotting down goals and making To Do lists. I don't want to forget. I feel every day should be filled with people, work, or projects. I have to make every day count. This sounds good and all, but as always God had a lesson to teach me.

One morning I woke up feeling sick. I lay in bed trying to decide if I should go to work. How sick should I be not to work at the hospital? I didn't feel like working. My body was bone weary and most likely giving way to malaria. I struggled with what to do. My inner drive shouted in my ear, "Work, Heather! Work! You're here to serve people not lay in bed! You need to go help those hard-working nurses at the hospital. You need to go touch patient lives. You need to go visit in the village. You're a missionary. You can't afford to miss one opportunity! You don't want to fail at fulfilling your calling!" My body however pleaded for mercy. "Rest, Heather. You can't do everything. You're going to burn out. Give yourself a break."

As this inner tug-of-war continued in my mind I realized I needed to hear from God. I could not reason out what was the right thing to do. I went to Him in prayer and sought to still my own voices so I could hear His. It was then that He revealed something I hadn't comprehended before. Working alongside the Master is not a race to see how much you can do. It is not an endurance competition. Instead it is a daily surrender to be Spirit-led. Being Spirit-led is not proscribing how God will use you, but making yourself available for however God leads. He may lead through days filled with a flurry of work and activity, or He may lead through days of sitting quietly in His presence and waiting on Him.

God showed me that my drive to achieve had sometimes been more about me than about Him. I wanted to leave my mark. I wanted to invest and serve so I'd be remembered. I wanted to work nonstop so I couldn't possibly leave Tchad with the guilt that I could have done more. It was all about me.

Sometimes trusting God through a week of hospital work is easier than trusting God through 10 days of malaria. The one seems to be accomplishing good. The other seems to be a waste. But, God has been teaching me that Heaven estimates things differently than I do. God’s thoughts are not my thoughts, nor are His ways my ways. In His perfect wisdom He decides when I need to work and when I need to rest. Self must not have any part of it.

It is not always the amount we do that counts, but in whose name and strength we do it. God can and will accomplish His work on this earth, whether it be by many or by few. He is not dependent upon us, but He lovingly allows us to partner with Him. He wants us to shoot high and dream big dreams for Him, but He also desires us to walk so closely with Him that we are willing to be still and see the salvation of the Lord.

“Live out Thy life within me, O Jesus, King of kings!
Be Thou Thyself the answer to all my questionings;
Live out Thy life within me, in all things have Thy way!
I the transparent medium, Thy glory to display.”

“But restful, calm, and pliant, from bend and bias free,
Awaiting Thy decision, when Thou hast need of me.
Live out Thy life within me, O Jesus, King of kings!
Be Thou the glorious answer, to all my questionings.”

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Pictures From Chad

Pierre & Howa, my African mother and father, and little Bezo who always wants to be in all the pictures!

My Home the 1st 2 1/2 months I was here in Chad.

My Bed and Mosquito Tent in My Hut

My Laundry Drying on the Line.

Bezo & Fabian were members of my Africa family. . .

. . . as were Dorcas, Sidoni, Emma, & Bezo. Aren't they adorable!

Working "Night Guard" [The 3 p.m.-9 a.m. Night Shift]

Many big Mango Trees provide shade on the Bere Hospital grounds.

Patient's Families--and sometimes the patients--in the courtyard around the hospital. At night it can be a challenge to find the patients outside!

Here I'm holding the baby I saved from the prolapsed cord.(See "Trust Needed")

20 Hours

May 17, 12:30 pm - My phone rings. Its Danae saying there is a delivery in process. I drop everything, hastily change into scrubs and bolt for the hospital. These African women deliver quickly and I know every second counts. Breathlessly I arrive at the delivery room just to find out I have at least an hour to wait. Since I am working the night shift starting at 3 pm I figure I should take the opportunity to go back to get my things for work and eat lunch. Twenty minutes later, I’ve accomplished both and am walking back to the hospital. The delivery room is humid and the air is stagnant despite the ceiling fan. Though she has regular contractions the progress is slow. I settle in for the long haul. I'm determined not to miss this delivery. Sitting on the exam table my eyes start to lull and close. It isn't even 2 p.m. yet. I wonder how I will ever make it through the night.

As it gets closer to shift change I get nervous. What if she delivers when I am getting report? Reluctantly I leave the delivery room for report but instruct them to call me the minute something happens. Sure enough, not even halfway through report I hear my name. I dash down the hall, only to find it was a false alarm. I quickly finish report and return to find her close to delivery. She is having difficulty. The baby’s head is visible but she is worn out. We check the baby's heart rate and find it is too low. If she doesn't get this kid out it will die. I'm worried. The last kid I delivered was dead. I want so much to deliver a live baby. Finally with much encouragement the mother uses the last of her energy to deliver a healthy baby girl. My hands, guided by the experienced hands of the other nurse, bring her into the world. I cut the umbilical cord and am passed the baby. She cries lustily. I am glad!

Although I am glad to have experienced a healthy delivery, I am now faced with a big mess to clean up right at the beginning of my shift. Thankfully the other nurses stay over time to help get things back to normal and complete the paperwork. The Maternity ward has 8 beds and 9 patients on the registry. Before the night is out it will have 10. Two patients also have babies receiving treatment for infections or malaria. An IV needs to be replaced and medications haven't been started. I take a deep breath.

Surgery has 10 patients as well, but thankfully does not have complicated medications to give. One patient however is agitated. Three of his family members have to hold him in the bed to keep him from pulling out his catheter and IV. I try to ask my 2 other nurses on duty what to do, but both are too busy to give me an answer. After calling Danae, I write for Diazepam and attempt to answer all the family's questions. I am in the middle of trying to get an IV to work for 6 pm meds when 3 student nurses arrive from Moundou. Apparently they are here for a month to do a practicum. One of them, a smiley young lady, chooses to work with me. Praise God! I have help tonight! God has provided yet again! Although she doesn't feel comfortable working independent of me, it is good to have another person to talk to. I can't tell you how good it was just to have the company! God is good.

The women who delivered tells me she has a lot of blood and pain. Although i don't see any frank hemorrhaging I think her uterus isn't as hard as it should be. I call Danae who tells me to hook her up to fluids with a oxytocin drip. Later, Danae (bless her heart) comes to check on me. Thankfully the woman doesn't need oxytocin after all. Just then a woman comes in with broken water at roughly 8 months. Danae was right there to assess and proscribe a treatment plan. Since she's had 2 C-sections already it is impossible for her to deliver vaginally. I am instructed to keep her NPO and watch her for the night. One person is at the door asking me to come. Another behind them is anxious I know their family member’s IV fluid is finish. A patient without a bed is asking where to put her stuff. I try to focus on one task at a time. I feel like I'm saying "wait a little . . . wait a little please" every other sentence. I pray silently for grace and continue taking one thing at a time.

Close to 9 pm meds, thunder rolls. I smile. I thank God for sending all my patients in to me. It’s very difficult to find them scattered around the hospital grounds in the dark. When they’re outside with their families, I try unsuccessfully to call out names like Kounmendgneu Dossuoum, and spend half my time simply hunting them down. Within minutes a torrential rainstorm hits. Calmly I lean in a doorway and enjoy watching the people stream inside past me. Things don't settle down until after 9 pm meds. Finally everyone has their medications and have asked their questions. The rain has stopped and the fresh air calls me outside. The moon is full and the clouds have broken up. I visit my other nurses. They have all finished as well. We stand together laughing and talking. I am reminded how much I love them all. One of them once again talks of getting me an African husband . . . like himself. This gave the other nurses much merriment. He promised to only have one wife and to become Adventist. I assure him it is good to be Adventist, but it should be for God not for me.

Close to midnight everyone is resting. I walk out into one of the open yards of the hospital compound. I stand there watching the clouds slowly blow by the full moon. I watch until there are no clouds left. The night sounds are comforting and all is peace. I talk with God. I marvel and am astonished before Him as I think of where He has brought me. I think of the 180 hours of night shift, learning French, feeling discouraged, having malaria . . . it all passes by my mind’s eye. My thoughts go back to the day when I first watched the mission DVD about Tchad. I remember the first time I felt the conviction to become a missionary nurse. Four years later - here I am . . . my stethoscope slung around my neck . . . in Tchad Africa. How strange, and yet wonderful. I wonder about the future and where God will lead next.

The need to give midnight meds tears me away from my peaceful ponderings. It doesn't take long. I go to my favorite sleeping spot: the concrete benches in front of Urgence. Stretching out, I breath deeply and soak in the night-sky’s beauty. I drift off for an hour, then get up to check the baby IV's. A man comes into Urgence with head trauma, and another for an infected stab wound. As is my habit I get up to see if i can help. The rest of the night passes with me checking the IV's and pre-term labor woman every 1 or 2 hours. The woman complains of some contractions so I check her every 30 minutes. Soon it is nearly time for 5 a.m. meds. The sky begins to lighten and the bats begin to fly and chatter excitedly.

Morning meds and vital signs are a juggling act for me as I work with my student nurse. It takes longer than I think they should. I cut my fingers when trying to open a Penta ampule and shake my head at my clumsiness. My fatigue is getting to me. I hear them singing hymns for morning worship as I take my last vital signs. One of my maternity ladies calls me over as I pass by. Her breast is one massive abscess and the dressing is already soaked in puss. The dressing change is the job of the day shift, but it needs to be changed now. I wheel in the treatment cart and proceed to milk out the puss. The smell gets to me a few times so I turn my head away for fresh air. She is so young. It hurts her terribly. She winces and sometimes reaches up to stop my hand. I don't know how to say "I'm so sorry it hurts" in Arabic. I wish I did.

May 18 8: 30 am - I've given report for both departments. I'm more than happy to turn over the patients to the capable hands of the 4 day-shift nurses. Walking home I look at my watch. It’s been 20 hours.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Don’t Forget to Smile

Things that bring me joy:

During our ride to church, hearing big tall Jonathan boom out from the top of the land rover "BON JOUR" in his Texas-twanged French. His attempt at singing Nangere hymns is equally entertaining. All he has down is the "dummmm" that many of the words end in. It sounds like " ahhhhhh dummm ahh ahhhh ahhhhh dummmmm". It brings spontaneous smiles to my face.

Having little, big bellied Vivian toddle over to me calling "Ro-chell, Ro-chell" in her high squeaky voice as she returns a purple bucket and water bottle I'd forgotten on the mat. She totters unsteadily as she holds them out. I thank her profusely and sweep her up into my lap. She throws back her head and gazes up at me with the biggest smile imaginable as her little hands pat my cheeks. "Do you know I love you" I say in English. She giggles. "I love you! I love you! I love you!" I say in a funny voice. She giggles each time. It sounds musical and like pure happiness. I plant a quick kiss on her forehead and she squeals with delight as she puts both hands over the spot. I clap my hands and hold them out. This is our favorite game. She claps her hands together several times and then lays them on mine. I like seeing her little hands against my big ones.

Watching the kids in my family play with their shadows, cast on the hut wall after dark by a lone flashlight. They strike heroic poses and call each time for me to see. I do my old stand-by charade of a rabbit with a dog who chases and eats the rabbit. Then I pretend my shadow dog is chasing their shadow. Emma calls for me to look at his shadow which spans the entire height of the hut. When he reaches up his hand the shadow disappears off the top of the hut into the night. "Look!" he says "I'm so big I'm touching the sky!"

The date bars Tammy Parker shares with me. So yummy! I go to get one out of the bag she gave me and just now notice it is a Village Market bag. For some inexplicable reason this gives me happiness.

When Adam, the brother of a pediatric patient, hurries up to tell me hello at the beginning of a new day of work. We do our special handshake where our fingers snap at the end. The first time we don't get a good enough snap. I back up and hold out my hand again. He smiles. We get a good loud snap this time. He's my buddy.

The time I was ask to retrieve the blood pressure cuff from another ward. When I walked through the door Salomon was waiting for me. He jumped out from around the corner. He chuckled at my jump and little scream. "Twa la" I said as I shook my finger (translates "hey you there!"). Undeterred I commenced my search for the BP cuff, but only found a pediatric one. "ohhh tro petite" I bemoaned. "oui, tro petite" he agreed, but looked far too pleased. Smiling broadly he brought the cuff out from behind his back. "Hey , how did you know!" I crowed as I grabbed it from him and ran back to maternity. He only smiled. Still can't figure out how he knew I was there for the BP cuff. I'm thankful for nursing friends and the smiles they bring.

I can't remember all the things that have given me joy here, but there are many.

Dear God, please never let me forget to smile.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Trust Needed

Woke up with malaria this morning. Last time it was .05% (mild). This time it is .10% (moderate). Strange since I almost convinced myself it was my imagination. Thankfully I decided to get tested anyway.

Yesterday was one of those days that made me sit and think. I'll tell you about it.

It was a discouraging day at work. I was working Maternity. I'd helped mop the delivery room, sweep the whole ward, checked my charts, visited our four patients and aided in consultations. However when Danae rounded she caught a glaring nursing error I should have noticed. A post-op patient had not received any pain medication (Tylenol and Ibuprofen) since the surgery the previous day. I felt like kicking myself. There were a couple other minor things that made me feel like I didn't have both oars in the water. "What am I doing here?" I wondered. How can I try so hard and yet still miss the simplest things and make silly mistakes. Discouragement descended on me like a cloud. I began making excuses like : "If it wasn't for those illegible French orders . . ." or "If I could only understand 20 more languages maybe I'd know what was going on around here." But then I despised myself for making excuses. On the outside I maintained a cheerful, resilient exterior, but inside there was a struggle. I was tired of giving medicines, struggling with bad I.V's and not being able to communicate with my patients. All around me were good things. I learned how to greet people in 3 more languages and got some kids to smile. Every nurse I met in the halls greeted me affectionately with a hearty handshake or called out "Good work" as I hauled soapy cleaning water. Despite these good things I felt like leaving and not coming back. The hours seemed to creep and I constantly had to choose to focus on service, not self.

It was almost time to go home. I was counting the minutes. There was a dump-truck load of laundry waiting for me at home and I was anxious to get started. Just then someone mentioned the word "delivery". I dropped everything and ran. As I stuck my head in the door my fellow nurse, Juliette, told me to call Danae. I saw an umbilical cord hanging out and was instantly running toward Netteburg’s house while reaching for my phone. I got Danae on the phone and she gave instructions, saying she was on her way. Back in the delivery room I quickly checked for a fetal heart rate and got 104 bpm. We rushed her to the Block and I called Danae to let her know the baby was still alive. I began holding the head off the cord and instructing the mother not to push. No matter how much I commanded and demonstrated panting, she still bore down with each contraction. My two fingers were no match for her muscular uterus. When Danae arrived she was wheeled into OR with me in-tow. They hurriedly prepped her and covered both her and me with the sterile drape. It was strange being down there, my face next to her urine soaked skirt, my fingers the only thing between the baby and death. My fingers were hurting and I felt I wasn't able to hold the baby up enough anymore. I asked to glove my other hand and switch out. Danae said "No, you're doing fine. Sorry, but we'll be done soon." It felt like forever. My toes curled up as they tried to dig into the cement in sympathy with my burning fingers. Just when I thought I couldn't last another minute, the baby’s head was suddenly gone. Only after I felt the prolapsed cord slither past my fingers did I hesitantly take them out. There was a flurry of activity as they resuscitated the baby and sought to suction out the profuse meconium. He came around eventually. I never lose the wonder of watching babies open their eyes for the first time and look around. It was amazing to look into the face of this little one I helped save.

Right on the heels of this excitement came another emergency. A girl with what appeared to be a placental abruption was brought into the Block while Danae was still closing up the first woman. I checked the fetal heart rate and got 140. Pretty good considering all the blood she was losing. We switched out patients and began prepping the new patient for a C-section, even though she was only 7 1/2 months. It didn’t look too promising for the baby. I looked over at the girl sitting naked on the table. Silent tears streamed down her cheeks. She looked so scared. I walked over and laid a comforting hand on her arm. Sometimes Tchadians pull away from being comforted but surprisingly she took my hand. I squeezed it and began lightly rubbing her shoulders. She put her other arm around me and before I knew it she had leaned her head on my chest. I held her as the tears continued to roll. When it was time for the spinal she leaned forward, wrapped both arms around me and hid her face in my neck like a little child. My heart went out to her and I held her with the tenderness I would want if I was in her place. Before scrubbing in, Danae ask me to place the Foley. As I was cleaning the area I saw something spurting blood like a little hose. "What's that?" I ask. Danae walked up and squinted. She'd never seen anything like it. A quick search revealed the source of all that blood was not the cervix, but rather the little bleeder thing which was simply sutured. "Way to save a baby's life Heather." Danae said." You get the Nurse of the Day Award today. If you hadn't asked about that thing I would have just gone ahead with the surgery and possibly lost a healthy baby." I shrugged. It was nothing heroic. I ruefully thought how just that morning I had been feeling like a complete failure.

I was reflective as I scrubbed my clothes that night. I had gone from the depths of despair to relieved happiness in one work day. I had gone from feeling utterly useless to feeling needed. God was trying to teach me something. I was serving Him just as much when mopping the floors as I was helping save a baby's life. I am too quick to lose heart and become frustrated at my own inabilities. God knows what He is doing. I need more trust.

"If you but trust in God to guide you and put your confidence in Him
You'll find Him always there beside to give you hope and peace within"

"I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord; Be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”
Psalm 27: 14

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


It's official. I've "expired." I'm "past-date" material. My expiration date has come and gone. I'm apparently like that apricot jelly forgotten in the back of the cupboard that now looks more like grape jelly.

This was news to me, beings as I don't feel like I would expect expired apricot jelly would feel. However I was informed of this regretful fact by our respected and friendly shopkeeper, Abrahim. He said it with confidence and assurance as only an expert would. This is how I found out the awful truth.

"You married?" He asked casually. He was the picture of stately repose as he reclined comfortably in his plastic chair, dressed in a handsomely embroidered robe as is commonly worn by Muslim men.

"No" I replied.

He took this news fairly calmly with a quick jerk of his head as he wisely surveyed the busy market street.

"How old are you?" He ask with distant interest, still surveying the street before him.

When I answered, the ox cart he'd been watching lost his interest. His gaze swung around so that his eyes met mine in a brief but intense moment.

"How old?" He demanded. "23?! Not married?” He paused as one does before pronouncing a devastating sentence.

"You've missed your chance. You're too old now."

Immediately I smirked at what I found to be an amusing comment. A quick look showed he did not share my feelings. Instead his face wore a grave look that said "tough luck pal, but you missed the boat."

I tried to explain how it is common in the U.S. for girls to wait until their education is finished before getting married, but he was unconvinced. He shook his head slowly from side to side.

"No, no, the Chadian way is better. I think 15 is a good age."

Now it was my turn to shake my head and sigh.

After surveying me briefly with critical eyes he revised his first sentence.
"You might still have hope if you get married right away . . . while you're still decently young."

I graciously accepted the kindness he showed me in making this concession, but explained to him that immediate marriage was impossible.

I think that’s when he decided this apricot jelly could not be salvaged, and abandoned it to the compost bin.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

I'm Not Tough

The heat is tremendous. I don't feel like moving. The sweat crinkles the page I'm writing on, glistens on my skin, and trickles into my eye. The salt burns my eyes. I need to forget about the heat and go work. It crosses my mind to complain. I need to be tough.
I'm not tough.

My hand shakes as I pick up the IV. The tiny hand seems swallowed up by mine. I grip it for dear life and squint at the faint trace of a vein. The baby whimpers and tries to pull away. I look at the IV catheter and then at the thread of a vein. It’s impossible. I don't want to miss again. I don't want to make the baby cry again. I miss again and give it over to another nurse. I should have been tough and tried again.
I'm not tough.

I somehow I think I should always work overtime, be cooking native food, be fluent in all languages and an expert at IV's. Instead, I don't want to go back to the hospital, don't feel like eating bouille again, don't particularly enjoy IV's, and just want to speak English. A missionary is supposed to be tough.
I'm not tough.
I'm weak.

To admit weakness is thought by some to be strong and admirable. But then there are weaknesses that are embarrassing. They don't boost the pride. They are the weaknesses you'd rather others not know—weaknesses that show your imperfections and fears. They are painful to admit, but they are God's workmen to make you strong in the strength of the Lord.

In the strength of the Lord I often forget about the temperature. In the strength of the Lord I hit veins, miss veins, and keep trying. In the strength of the Lord I keep going back to work every day and find blessing in service. In the strength of the Lord I actually enjoy bouille and do a little more language learning every day. It’s all in the strength of the Lord.

Without that strength I am yet another complaining, pansy volunteer who couldn't cut it. With that strength I am more than a conqueror through Christ who loves me.

A Sabbath

By 8:15 I am dressed in my new African outfit, have my hair braided, and my backpack packed. Jonathan and Fredrick pull up on a motorcycle. After brief Sabbath greetings, all three of us pile on and zip away through the village. During these Sabbath morning rides my heart is very happy. I sing as we bounce along, wave to children, and just take in the beauty of huts guarded by towering palm trees. At Bendalay* we all pile into the LandRover and head for Dobgay. Seeing a boy who has fallen from a mango tree, we stop to help. Melody and I assess him and decide it’s just a sprained or dislocated knee--nothing life threatening.

Once at Dobgay we gather under the mango tree. There are about 6 benches set up with a small, knee-high table in front that serves as a pulpit. There are songs, children stories and a sermon. Afterwards, the Bendalay missionaries and I gather for a Bible Study about prayer. We enjoy a wonderful lunch. They kindly provide me transportation back to the hospital compound, saving me a 45-minute walk.

It's been two weeks since our premier Sunshine Band and I am determined to keep it going, even though no one chooses to join me. Jaime Parker kindly loans me a guitar and I take off for the hospital. Starting in Pediatrics, I sing a lot of the same songs as last time. They smile and laugh. After "If You're Happy and You Know It," a lady asks excitedly, "What does it mean? What does it mean?" I give her the best translation I can and she smiles with satisfaction. After that I try to give a three or four word explanation in French for each song I sing. Even if they can't understand, I’m just happy to bring them some music. In each ward I always sing "God Is So Good" in English, French, and Nangere, hoping they will understand at least this one song.

I had just finished my singing rounds and was headed back to the Parker house when I noticed activity in Urgence[the ER]. Apparently there had been a car accident with 5 people injured. Olen** was already there assessing the patients. With the guitar still slung over my shoulder and still dressed in my Sabbath best, I stood back to observe. Turning to me he asked abruptly, "Want to do some suturing?" Would I!?! Always on the lookout for learning opportunities, this seemed too good to pass up. "Sure!" I answered, and headed for the Block [the surgery suite]with Olen. I laid the guitar on a hospital gurney and put on a surgical gown to protect my clothes. The patient’s shoulder was badly dislocated, his ear was almost torn off, and he had gapping wounds on his arm.

"You ready?" Olen handed me the needle driver and gestured toward the floppy ear. With a fair share of jitters, I commenced the tricky process of trying to suture in the small space behind the ear. After 4 pain-staking stitches I gratefully hand it over to Olen to finish. I restrain the now-combative patient while Olen sutures the anterior arm wound. At this point he takes a look at the posterior wound and groans. It’s messy, with missing skin, ragged edges and muscle poking out. "Is it possible to suture that?” I ask. "Oh sure," is his confident reply, but he continues to stand there looking at it and making faces.

About this time a nurse comes to tell him there is a patient with a busted eyebrow in Urgence.
"Yeah, I think I'll go take care of that . . . and Heather will suture this one."
My eye brows shot up and I managed an incredulous "Are You Serious?!" But he was already halfway out the door. He called back "You know how," a reassurance which sounded hollow to me. I starred at the gaping wound for a moment, picked up the needle driver and breathed an audible prayer.

"Dear God guide my hands."

Trying to remember all the pointers Olen had given me and the techniques I learned a year ago on an electrician-taped-lemon, I started in on the intimidating task. The wound was wide and I had to loop it three times to even make it stick. It was slow, hard, pain-staking work for my inexperienced hands. I was pouring sweat. In the end the arm was stitched and I was very, very happy.

That evening I walk home in the dark. Just as I get to my compound a kid jumps out of the foliage and gives me quite a start. Suddenly children appear from everywhere, shrieking in laughter at my fright. I smile and playfully scold them. This is the second time this has happened. I pretend my heart is beating wildly and say jokingly that next time they might scare me to death. They all crowd around to shake my hand and I wish them a good night. After giving my African mother a dramatic and laughter-filled report of my day, I retire to my mosquito tent.

Thank you, Lord, for another Sabbath.

Editor’s Notes:
*Heather is working as a nurse at Bere Adventist Hospital. Bendalay, about two miles away, is the African headquarters of Adventist Medical Aviation, directed by Gary and Wendy Roberts.
**Olen & Danae, a husband/wife doctor team, are the new co-medical directors of Bere Adventist Hospital. Olen’s specialty is ER; Danae’s specialty is OB/GYN.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

When All Alone

Another day of work is done. I fill my water bottle at the hospital spigot. Straightening up slowly, I pause to smile and lift my hands in greeting to an Arab woman watching me. With my eyes I try to communicate all my mouth cannot. She smiles broadly in return and then turns back to her close family circle lounging on a crimson carpet. I walk toward the hospital gate with the day’s activities replaying in my mind. The baby who died . . . how I'd been surprised . . . wondering what had happened . . . how it felt to care for the girl with aids . . . and those bats who peed on me in morning worship. My thoughts don't stay on the level of events, but leap into the realm of questions, wondering's and contemplation. After greeting the guard man and the half a dozen people lingering outside the gate I commence my solo walk home. People smile and greet me all along the way. Children run to their family gate to shake my hand then scamper back to their family's mat. I continue down the road. At home my family greets me happily. Longing for companionship I join them on the mat. We have simple conversation about the weather and the day’s events, then I sit back to observe their lively family activities. They tell funny stories, discuss politics and who knows what else, in Mun-dong. I can smile and observe, but not comprehend.

My thoughts are still there. They are pressing and I long to talk to someone about them. God has blessed, but my feeble French only holds a teaspoon of my ocean of thoughts. Even if I was able to make myself understood I don't think I would find comprehension in my beloved African family. I long to share experiences and process thoughts with another missionary.

My fellow missionaries all offer wonderful encouragement in the time I spend with them, but after the visit is over, they stay with their family and I go home to my hut. Everyone else has somebody with whom they work, eat, sleep or rely on for care when sick. My work, living conditions, and location all set me apart, alone. I'm the only missionary nurse, the only one in the village, the only one with a vastly different diet and way of life. All my life I have had someone I relied on for comfort, protection, hugs, or an encouraging word. This isolation is something new.

At times the simile of being thirsty in the middle of the ocean has come to mind. All day I am surrounded with people to talk with, patients to minister to and children to play with, but despite this there is loneliness. My days are chalk full of amazing experiences, spiritual lessons or beautiful sights. It is hard not to have someone to share them with. I store them up in my heart, write pages, and learn more of what it is to talk with God as a friend.

Alone-ness is not my enemy, but here it has been flames in the furnace of God for me. When all human and earthy supports are removed, I am unable to replace God. He is the only one on whom I can rely. Despite its positive spiritual lessons, this experience has given me a new prayer for every missionary in the field . . . that every worker for God has a fellow worker who can lift up their hands when they are weak.

Through prayers and messages, many of you have been my "fellow workers." You have encouraged me more than you'll ever know.

Thank you my friends.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Smell of Rain

A sudden gust of cool air startles me. Pausing, I tilt my head up and breath in through my nose. There it is. It’s nothing I can see, feel or hear, but it promises so much. It promises of coming things. Cooler temperatures, shade, playing in puddles . . . a bath for the earth. It's the smell of rain. Rain gets its smell from the things it touches. It is the smell of coolness, earth, vegetation and many other wondrous things of nature. The smell has been there all the time. It was just waiting for the moisture of rain to release it.

Rain has finally come to Tchad. The unbearable dryness and heat is being tempered with fairly regular storms that sweep across the savanna plains. I love seeing the clouds billow and tumble in the sky. You can see them miles away with their dark curtain of rain connecting them to earth. After the first gust of wind you often have less than a minute to run for shelter. There are seldom gentle showers, only storms. You get a few warning drops and then a big swimming pool in the sky bottoms out with a big "whoosh" of pelting rain! Many times I do not run for shelter but run out the door. To turn your face to the sky and have rivulets of rain running all over is a joy difficult to explain. The rain is my friend and the smell it sends ahead and leaves behind reminds me of my friend.

The Holy Spirit is likened to a rain shower. The Latter Rain is soon to fall. The wind is beginning to gust and I think I detect the smell of rain. Prepare to be refreshed.

"Showers of blessing
Showers of blessing we need
Mercy drops round us are falling
But for the showers we plead."

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Hearts That Stop

I had just helped hold her head down during her spinal tap and listened to her raspy lungs. She was sick, very sick. Not long after we finished rounds, a family member appears at the door and waves us in. Before I comprehend what is happening they have taken out her I.V. Her lovely face is peaceful as if in a restful sleep, cradled in her mother’s arms. The raspy breaths have stopped. Squatting down in front of her I put my stethoscope to her chest. I had to know for sure for myself. I heard a flutter and then nothing. She had just slipped away, and what was left was a beautiful shell of a little girl. I took note of her bright blue bead necklace and slightly orange tinted curly hair. She was chubby and looked healthy, but life had escaped her too soon. A terrible disease had destroyed her red blood cells, starved her body of oxygen, taxed her heart, and filled her lungs. They wrap her in a pretty African cloth and silently walk away. I stand watching them leave, at a loss for words.

The child had been struggling along all day, but now the family calls us over. He has taken a turn for the worst. No longer conscious, his head is lulled backwards as he gasps for every breath. The mother has silent tears rolling down her strong face. I can sense her fear and anticipatory grief. I know what that is like. They have given him every possible medicine and started a transfusion. They have wrapped his hot body in a wet cloth and now I fan him in hopes of providing some comfort. I pray silently for God to bring comfort and healing. There is nothing more I can do. My shift ends, and few hours later so does his life.

I see the parents carry her, swaddled in a cloth, out of the hot Pediatrics building to the shade of a nearby tree. She is yet another case of lungs filling with fluid. A few minutes later they call us over. Once again there is an eerie silence, in place of the gurgling of her struggling breaths. I place my hand on the mother’s shoulder in wordless sympathy. Reaching down I stroke child’s head and marvel at how soft it is under my hand. Gently I pull the IV from her still warm hand. I straighten up and stand starring. Realizing there is nothing more I can do I begin stepping backwards, cast one more sympathetic look to the family, and walk away. "Rochelle, come here and start this baby's IV" my fellow nurse calls. I toss the dead baby’s IV in the trash and simultaneously reach for the new one. The new baby’s struggling breaths, sound just like the little one who just died. When will this cycle end?

A mother comes to us holding a gasping baby. We drop everything and all work together until an IV is started and a bag of blood hung. We sit there and watch the baby. I watch each breath and wonder if he'll have strength for another one. It makes me feel short of breath. My shift is about to end. What more can I do? I noticed a crucifix around the mother’s neck. In broken Nangere, I attempt to explain I want to pray for her. She nods her head gratefully. I place my hand on the baby's head and pray in English, scattered with French phrases. I pray for healing, comfort and strength. I pat the mother’s arm and give her a look that hopeful translates as " I'm so sorry. I wish things were different." Afterwards I hear the baby died 4 hours later.

I wake up to hear a baby's father calling me to come. It’s 4:30 in the morning. I had admitted this baby the evening before with a Hemoglobin of 2.3. He needed a transfusion. We tried for 2 hours to get an IV in the baby. I pray the whole time pleading for God to help us. Finally we get one in his neck. I breath a sigh of relief. I take care of all the other patients, assess everyone who seems a little unstable and then lay down for a rest. Now I walk quickly to the bedside and find the baby breathing with effort. The family wants me to pull the IV. I don't want to. There is no way this baby is going to survive without the blood, but they are insistent. Frustrated, I grab gloves, bend down and begin pulling at the tape. Just as I pull it out, there is one more gurgle, then nothing. I stop breathing too. I look at the other nurse who has come to talk to the family. "Is the baby dead?" He gives a quick nod. Shocked, I glance back at the baby in front of me. No! It can't be! I grab the nurse’s stethoscope from around his neck and press it to the baby’s chest. There is a slow, dying heartbeat. I push at the baby's chest, willing it to breath. I have wild thoughts of trying resuscitation, but the other nurse just stands there. I realize there is nothing to be done. I have just watched a baby drown before my eyes . . . just like all the other ones. What more could I have done? Surely something. I should have been watching. I should have caught it earlier. God forgive me if I could have done even one more thing to save this baby.

Each time I see a heart stop, something happens to mine. Sometimes I cry, sometimes I don't. Sometimes I know I did everything I could. Sometimes I question. I don't have time to stop and process all my thoughts right then, there are other children to take care of. I press forward and keep working, but later the thoughts come. When I look at the stars at night or see a happy healthy child, I think of these hearts that stopped.

I can hardly wait for the day when death itself will die. That Day is coming soon.

Saturday, April 30, 2011


After weeks of talking about it, we finally pulled together our Bere Adventist Hospital Sunshine Band. Amongst the group we had three guitars, one violin, one flute, and one mandolin. Let the music start!

Our first stop was in Pediatrics where we sang “God Is So Good,” “Jesus Loves Me,” and “If Your Happy and You Know It.” The Netteburg's 2-year-old son, Lyol wandered around handing out balloons and making people smile. By the time we reached Maternity, we had attracted quite the crowd. They were packed into the hallway trying to see into the ward. We moved on to the Surgical ward, where there was more room, and sang “Power in the Blood” and “As the Deer.” Even here, smiles began to crack somber faces, and the dreary ward seemed to brighten. There was a new feeling to this place of metal beds and concrete walls. As we moved on outside, a man with a casted leg thanked us and said, "God was here."

They didn't understand most of words we were singing, but music doesn't need much translation.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

One Thing I Can Do

Hello there little one.
I wish you were looking up at me with bright eyes.
I wish you would giggle when I tickled your foot.
I wish you weren't listless.
I wish your skin didn't hang on your small frame.
I wish . . . I wish

What can I do for you little one?
I can listen to your slowing heart.
I can hear your gasping breaths.
But what can I do?
I can't give you an IV, you already have one.
I can't give you a new medication, you've had them all.
I can't give you my blood, they already have some for you.
I can't breath for you, eat for you, or take your malaria.
Why is it that all I can do is fan your hot body?
Why is it that all I can do is watch and wait?

There is one things I can do for you little one.
"Heavenly Father, Lover of the Children, you see this little one . . . "