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.”