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.