Friday, November 29, 2013

God's Grace

Many of you have been following the story of a 5 year-old Togolese girl named Grace either through this blog or perhaps facebook. I thought I'd take the time to expand on that story.

I first met Grace just a few months after I arrived in Togo.  Her father Komi, who helped out in our lab at HBB, brought her in one day looking very tired, sweaty, and weak.  Her heart was beating at 220 times a minute! (normal for her age would be around 80)  When the heart beats this fast, it actually doesn't have any time to fill up with blood and is essentially useless.  I knew she was suffering from SVT (Supraventricular Tachycardia)--a problem with the electrical system of the heart.  There are 3 treatments for this condition: a medication called Adenosine, a Vagal maneuver (ice pressed to the face or bearing down like you are going #2!), or shocking the heart.  I knew we had some Adenosine but it was expired.  I went to the doctor's office to get it and had them put an icepack on her face while waiting.  After about 5 doses of Adenosine and NO sign of the medication changing the rhythm in the least we were running out of options.  While debating whether to shock her heart, she had a seizure.  While the seizure wasn't good news, it actually put her heart into a normal rhythm.  After about 30 minutes she woke up smiling and giggled a bit and wanted to see her brother, Elizae.

After everything was calm, I flipped through her very thick medical chart and noticed that Grace had been diagnosed with this condition several years before, along with another structural heart problem.  An heart echo done years before showed that she had an open PDA, which is a vessel that is open in-utero so that blood can bypass the lungs (since the lungs are filled with fluid and don't "breathe"like normal).  After being born, this vessel closes.....or at least, is supposed to!

Grace went home after 2 days in the hospital and some treatment against malaria.  We increased the medication she had to take every day at home that tries to keep her heart from beating too fast.  The thoughts about exploring possible surgery in the US crossed my mind, but I wasn't ready to further explore things as I was still a novice in the Togo medical world.  I knew that I was dealing with a very special little girl, as I had never seen a child so filled with spontaneous joy.  There was no doubt that she carried with her the joy of the Lord everywhere she went.

A few months later she came in again.  Same symptoms, same worried look on her families faces.  After proving once again that Adenosine and ice packs weren't changing a thing, we shocked her heart. Immediately she opened her eyes wide and giggled, then reached out for her brother.  I didn't need to look at the monitor to know her heart was beating well again.

A few months passed and other admissions for her came.  Each time she also had malaria, which is rampant here in Togo, and likely served as a trigger for her SVT.  Each time we either shocked her heart back into rhythm or she would end up vomiting or seizing--none of which were long-term solutions!! Although I had been in contact concerning Grace's on-going care with my kind former colleagues at Kosair Children's Hospital, plans for searching out US surgical options were still put on hold as another employee's daughter was unexpectedly diagnosed with a Brain Tumor that needed an emergent operation.  (see blog posts "Berna part 1 and 2")  Thankfully through the experience with Bernadette, we make contact with an US based charitable organization called Healing the Children.  HTC helps find and facilitate finding surgical options for sick children all over the world (

Near the beginning of 2013, we started more actively trying to find out our options for getting Grace overseas.  Even with the help of HTC, we kept running into roadblocks as many US hospitals are not taking as many surgical charity cases due to budgetary cutbacks.  Also, due to Grace's problem not only with structure, but the electricity component of her heart, her surgery required a special electrophysiology lab.  Through some contacts at Kosair we were able to find a willing and capable surgeon in India.  The cost of the surgery was still going to be around $8000 which I knew was VERY CHEAP in comparison to what actual cost was, but also a lot of money for both us at HBB and for the folks at HTC.  I also just didn't feel like that's where she was supposed to go, so we waited.

I knew the longer we waited, the more danger she was in. Her heart already showed changes of beating too fast on a daily basis; even on medications her heart rate was around 120.  Our friends at healing the children had some leads.  My home hospital Kosair was a possibility but had already committed to taking a young child from Pakistan.  They said if things fell through though, the might take Grace.  Of course, I couldn't pray for the Pakistani child's case to "fall through"as I was sure he needed help just as much as Grace did.  So we waited.

Meanwhile, Dr. Ed Fitzgerald, an adult cardio-thorasic surgeon from Indianapolis started advocated for Grace.  Dr. Ed has done an incredible amount of work to help us here at HBB, including frequent visits to come and serve here (even with C-sections!  How many CV surgeons can say they know how to do C-sections!)  With Dr. Ed's connections he started making phone calls all over the country.  We got word that a surgeon Texas Children's was willing to help us out, but it needed approval from the board.  I told Grace's dad that we were getting close and we needed to start getting identity papers for Grace.  (In Togo, you can't get a card that shows you are a citizen without going through some major paperwork and paying fees.  Only after you have that card can you start the passport process).

Komi, Grace's dad, working in our lab
 While waiting for word from Texas we got a call that said Grace's dad had a cardiac arrest in a classroom at the hospital.  Komi had been accepted into our training program to become a lab tech, and during morning devotions, he fell to the ground unconscious.  After hours of resuscitation Komi was still unconscious but his heart was beating.  As a hospital with no ventilator or bypass abilities, the changes that Komi was going to survive the night were slim to none.  But after 2 days, and in the early morning hours, Komi woke up, prayed aloud, and then said, "Where am I?"  After a week in the hospital the doctors felt that he had some sort of baseline arrhythmia (faulty electricity in his heart) and would need an internal defibrillator, which was not possible at HBB.  And although Komi's brain went without oxygen for likely at least 15 minutes, after about 2 weeks he was back in class.

Our friend Dr Ed went to work on trying to find hospitals that would take Grace and Komi!!  The possibility of Texas Children's was moving forward and we had some hopeful leads on Komi's chances as well.  Sadly, about 4 weeks later, Komi had another cardiac arrest while playing with his children and died a few hours after arriving at HBB.  The devastation overwhelmed everyone at the hospital as we all remained in a state of shock.  How could this happen to a joyful, Christ-serving, healthy young husband and father?  What was there to say to his young 29 year old wife and 2 young kids?  I pleaded with the Lord to open a door for Grace, so that her mom wouldn't have to bury another family member.

The e-mail came 3 days after Komi died.  Dr. Ed sent word that Riley Children's Hospital in his hometown of Indianapolis had accepted Grace and surgery would be on Dec 10th!!!!  PRAISE GOD!  The date of surgery was firm and couldn't be moved.  I knew we had A TON to get done, including passports and visas in only a month's time.  But while this news was a huge blessing, how could I ask Grace's mom to let her leave for the US, to get a surgery on her heart, when she hadn't yet buried her husband?  Grace's surgery wouldn't require opening her chest, or a long stay in the hospital, but it isn't without risk.  At Komi's funeral I watched as a family friend carried Grace on her back.  It was the only time in 2 years I had ever seen Grace without an infectious smile and laugh.  I knew her only chance was to go.

Grace with her mom and beloved brother, Elizae
Two days after the funeral I met with a somber mom and explained the situation.  She had no hesitation about Grace going and was extremely grateful to all involved at the life-saving chance this would give to her daughter.  We worked frantically at getting Grace her passport and visa.  Because of some red-tape and mis-steps, although we finally got both, we missed a deadline to apply for free flights for Grace to the US by 3 days.  But our God is bigger than deadlines, and the folks at American Airlines granted her the "Kids Miles"and even provided an escort to take her from Lomé to Indianapolis free of charge.  She will be staying with Dr. Ed and his family after being discharged from the hospital.  And as God would have it, a former Togo short-termer, Amie Bockstahler, is a nurse at Riley and will get to help out with Grace in the states and accompany her back all the way to Togo!

Bernadette (middle) with her mom, dad and sister Jeanette

My real Thanksgiving came 2 days early when we had a dinner with all the missionaries along with both the Pariko family (Berna's family) and Grace's family.  We ate a huge Togolese meal and Praised the Lord for His work in both these families lives.  The meal fell 2 weeks after the anniversary of Berna's return home and 2 weeks before Grace's trip to Indy.

I know there are sick children all over the world who die from lack of access to care like we have in the US.  We take care of those kids everyday here at HBB, and I spend many nights fighting against despair and questioning God's ways.  But then I see, that in His kindness and sovereignty, God chose to provide for these 2 children in a miraculous way.  We can ask, "Why not those others?" or we can choose to say, "Thank you for saving them." Isn't that what Thanksgiving is?  Recognizing that we deserve nothing and each thing God provides for us, from surgery to our very breath, is a gift from the Lord.

Yesterday, I tried to explain Thanksgiving to some Togolese friends of mine.  "It's a day when all American's spend with friends and family to give thanks." One Togo man said, "I don't understand, don't you give thanks to God everyday?!"
Amen my friend. Amen.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

An aside.

This is NOT a normal blog for me…so beware !
But I feel that it is necessary to write, not only for me, but for many others out there who are like me (insert sarcastic comment: “Kelly, there is no one out there like you”)  haha. Ok, true.  Like me= Single missionary for this context.  Anyways……

I want to address a VERY COMMON conversation I have with people when they find out I am and will-be a long-term missionary in Africa.  It goes something like this:

Me: “Actually, I live in West Africa.”
Person: “ You LIVE there?!  Like forever?”
Me: “Well, at least until I feel the Lord asking me to live somewhere else”
Person: “Wow.  Well, are you married?”
Me: “Nope.”
Person: “Oh, so I guess you don’t want to get married.”
OR (version 2)
Person: “well how are you ever going to get married if you live in Africa?!

Insert my triple take, furrowed brows and look of confusion… followed by my sarcastic remark of:
“Oh yes of course, because there aren’t any men if Africa!” 

Now, this isn’t a blog about whether or not I want to ever get married; On the contrary.  It’s about obedience.   I believe that there is a passion given to each of us that comes from the Lord.  Not just the passion we have for the Lord, but a desire to use a particular talent, idea, or ability to further the kingdom of God.   I believe we can be most in line with the “mysterious will of God” when we honor the Lord through these things and give Him all the glory for what happens as a result.

So, when an opportunity comes to live out this God-given passion and gift, and it happens to take you to a difficult place, what is the correct response?  GO!!  When Jesus said to the disciples, “Come follow me,” they were expected to drop their fishing nets and follow him.  For the disciples to have responded, “I’ll be right there, I just need to finish building my house,”or “I’m coming!  I just want to do one more……”
I have met too many women (and men) who passionately want to reach the Nations for the Lord, who refuse to go because they won’t until they are married.  This mindset is troubling to me, and yet at the same time I have been there.   For me, at least, it came down to trust. 

Do I trust the Lord?
Do I trust Him to take care of me if I’m alone? 
Do I trust him to bring me a spouse anywhere I am in the world? 
Do I trust him if He NEVER brings me a spouse? 

The conversation at the beginning is a problem because it’s extremely discouraging for someone who is hoping to get married while trying to trust in the Lord by moving overseas as a single.  It’s also showing our small view of God to think he is limited by country borders or location when it comes to his sovereign will on who will be married.  It’s also assuming that everyone’s goal in life is to be married.
Maybe a better conversation would be:

Person: “Are you married?”
Me: “Nope.”
Person: “Well how can I help encourage you while you are overseas”
OR “Well tell me more about your ministry and the people you will be serving”
OR even “Are you nervous moving/living overseas as a single person?”

I think marriage is a amazing thing, created by God, to mirror Christ and His church.  And if two people desire to marry, and are passionately serving God in a way that is honoring to him, YAY!  But if getting married, or wanting to get married, ends up keeping you from fulfilling the passion for Serving Him that He has placed in your life, you need to ask yourself if you trust Him. 

In all honesty, I do hope to be married one day.  But, if I am single for the rest of my days, then I will trust that God had His purpose for it.  And maybe I was better able to serve Him as a single woman than I would have as a married one.   Because I KNOW I am in the right place.  And I’d rather die a single woman in Africa than live as a married woman anywhere else.   But thanks be to our God that those aren’t the only two choices! J

So if you know a single missionary, ask how you can encourage them or be a listener.  If you know a single person considering missions, don’t discourage them from going based on their marital status.   If you are already married, invite your single friends to hang out and not just to babysit your kids (although I don’t mind babysitting your kids, too!)  Let’s all find out how we can push one-another to be the active hands and feet of Jesus, and passionately serve Him in all the Nations!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

How beautiful on the mountains....

This evening I found out that a boy named Bawa who has lived his life in Mango, Togo lost his lifelong battle with diabetes.  Upon meeting Bawa, even with my trained eyes, I would have guessed his age at about 12 at best.  The years of undiagnosed Type 1 diabetes stole his health, his vision and his manhood.  Although he was around 22, when he looked at me with his cataract-clouded eyes and wasted body, I couldn't help but want to carry him in my arms like a child.

A fellow missionary spent the last several months doing what she could to teach his widowed mother how to do insulin injections and adjust his diet.  They would use the little French mom knew, a small amount of Anafo, and a whole lot of hand motions to try and get all the ideas across.  Against all odds, Bawa actually started to gain some weight and carry some hope for the future.  His dream- to be able to go back to school.

When I was in Mango around 6 weeks ago, we heard that Bawa was taken to the local government hospital and hadn't woken up in days.  When we arrived, he had a blood sugar of 30 but the hospital didn't have any IV fluids that had sugar and he wasn't responsive enough to drink the juice we brought.     My fellow missionary who had been helping the family knew that we were in a losing battle.  We didn't have the resources, money or ability to care for Bawa, even if he got better this time.  We suggested that mom take him home and wrote the name of an antibiotic the family could try, if they could find the money.  We visited them in their 1 room, circular hut for the following few days.  His mom graciously and kindly tried to keep him clean when the small bits of porridge he ate seemed to exit as fast as it entered.  We prayed with him because we knew that our Father in Heaven could hear us, even if Bawa could not.  I left Mango prepared to get an email about his death in the following days.

But Bawa got better.  I knew there was nothing in that hut that could've saved him aside from God's grace.  We all praised the Lord--the Great Physician.

I got an email from my missionary friend yesterday that Bawa was once again in a coma and un-responsive, no matter what his sugar level was.  I thought "surely the Lord will save him again." But Bawa did not get better.  He will never return to school.

How are we, as believers in a loving God, supposed to respond to this?  I weep for Bawa, and the things he will never do.  I weep for myself, and the ever-present reminder that my profession is always a losing one, in the end.  I weep for the injustice of poverty and inequality of power.  And I weep for the unknown outcome of his eternal salvation.

Then the Lord said, "Before Abraham was, I AM". - John 8:58

"As the heavens are higher than the Earth, so are my ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts" - Isaiah 55:9

“I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. "- Job 42:2-3

Our response: trust and humility in our Savior, the Creator and Redeemer of this universe. The fact is, God is weaving a tapestry that we can even begin to understand. Habakkuk complained and weeped over similar things, crying out to the Lord:

"How long, Lord, must I call for help,
 but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed,
and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
so that justice is perverted."

The Lord's Response:

“Look at the nations and watch—
and be utterly amazed.
For I am going to do something in your days
that you would not believe,
even if you were told"

While I acknowledge that their is a specific context of this Biblical text, it clearly shows that God's response to our weeping and cries of injustice in this world is not "get over it!"or to ignore it. He is saying, "I know you can't SEE it, but I have a wondrous PLAN. One so amazing that you couldn't even comprehend it if I tried to show it to you."

Our response: Faith and Obedience to the One who sees and knows all things. Christ said, "GO and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 18)

The Bawa's of this world need one thing. The same thing we ALL need. The saving grace and hope found in Jesus Christ. But "How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Romans 10:14-15)

You don't have to GO to Africa. You don't have to BAPTIZE in the Euprates. You don't have to make a DISCIPLE in Yemen. Have beautiful feet wherever God has placed them.

I know that Bawa heard the Good News, and that gives me Hope. Hope that he is in the arms of the Savior. Weep for those that have not yet heard, and go give them

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Praises and Prayers

At risk of losing some people by the end….this might be a long one!  Of course, those of you who know me also know that short conversations are not my gift, so this blog should make you feel like I’m standing right in front of you! J

First, I’ll update you on some work going on here at our Southern Hospital (HBB) where I’ve been working all this time.  One great story from this month is that this cutie pie named Yaywra just finished 6 rounds of chemotherapy and seems to be in remission!  She presented with a HUGE abdominal mass and ended up having an ovary removed that was probably about 10cm in diameter.  Unfortunately there was still a lot of cancer left behind.  Thanks to a hospital in Michigan who does our pathology for free, we were able to determine that she had Burkitt Lymphoma.  This type of lymphoma is endemic to Africa (and happened to be first reported by Dr. Burkitt who was a medical missionary in Uganda many years ago).  The good news is that it is usually VERY responsive to chemotherapy and kids have about a 75% of living cancer free if they make through all the treatments.  Unfortunately here in Togo, we start chemo on patients and then they never come back to finish treatments.  This is partly due to a misunderstanding of the chronic nature of cancer, and in part due to the financial constraints of families.  (In government hospitals, if you don’t have the money to pay for treatment or medications AHEAD of time, treatment isn’t given!  This means: if you child comes to the ED very sick and needing medications, the doctors write a prescription for IV fluids, antibiotics, etc. and you have to go to the pharmacy immediately to buy them.  If you don’t have the money, your child won’t get treated—no matter what!)
To attempt to alleviate this problem, I have started to tell families that they won’t have to pay anything until the end of all 6 cycles.  If they come for all 6, the hospital Pediatric Benevolence Fund pays about 50% (or more) of the total bill.  If they stop coming after just a few, I tell them that they will owe the hospital the total amount.  Of course, this is very motivating to families and we have been able to improve our rates of chemo follow-up!  A HUGE thank you to those who contribute to the Peds Benevolence Fund!  Because of you, these kids can get treatment!  Please pray that Yayrwa will continue to be cancer free!

We also have 2 premature infants right now—John and Image (pronounced the French way “ee-maj).  They were born 1 day apart both at 28 weeks, and weighing in at 900 grams (1 pound, 15.5 ounces!)  Image came into the world in very difficult circumstances.  Here mom came into our hospital with an enormous jaw tumor that was about to close off her airway.  Our Surgeons immediately placed a Trach-tube so that she could breath easier.  There wasn’t any chemo to offer her, nor could a surgery be done.  After a couple days, she was becoming obviously worse, and our doctors had to make the difficult choice to deliver the infant via C-section despite her prematurity.  Sadly, about 12 hours later, her mom passed away.  In subsequent days, Image was left at the hospital alone.  Her family had left and we were unsure if they would return.  But amazingly, after 4 days, her paternal grand-mother came and has been at her bedside ever since.  This grandma actually has 9 children of her own (all living), so Image has a HUGE family with many aunts and uncles that will care for her.  In the days that followed her mother’s death, we got word that her dad actually tried to commit suicide out of despair over the loss of his wife.  Thankfully, he was not successful and has since made several visits to the hospital to see his little girl fighting and growing!  For the last 2 weeks he has brought be a bushel of fresh vegetables from his village as a “thank you”!  God is using this little girl to give a new Hope to her dad, Praise the Lord!  I have also started a Bible study with the grandmother, which has been a great joy! Please pray for these little premies to grow well and tolerate feeding.  They are at about 22 days and reaching a month is an important milestone.  (If they make it past 1 month, they usually survive.)  Pray for their families as they have to stay at their bedsides 24/7 and it can be very exhausting!

Lastly (in patient care news).  This little girl's name is Grace and she is the daughter of one of our employees.  She is 5 years old and has a repairable heart condition.  We are currently working hard to get her to the US (or another country) for surgery.  She does well, but frequently comes down with malaria or other tropical illness that aggravates her condition severely.  Please pray with us as we work towards finding her the best place to go while trusting in God's timing for all things!

Meeting with new friends on a recent trip to Mango
I also wanted to say a word about my future plans here in Togo.  As many of you know, I recently joined ABWE in order to become a full-time missionary/Pediatrician here in Togo!  The need here is so very great, and I couldn’t imagine working anywhere else (and I’m trying to avoid ObamaCare! J)  While the need is very great here at our Southern Hospital, we also have a hospital that is currently under construction in the Northern part of the country, in a city called Mango.   This is a town of about 50,000 who are mostly Muslim and have VERY little access to healthcare.  Due to it’s location, the hospital will actually serve people from the surrounding countries as well—Ghana, Burkina Faso, and Benin!  We are praying that the construction will be done in the fall 2014, and that the doors will be ready to open on JANUARY 8, 2015!!  I have had to make a difficult choice in whether I will stay and serve here in the South, or go North. 

I said that I love pictures of older people because their faces tell
a story.  This Fulbe woman heard me and said, "I'm old, you
should take my picture."


When I first joined Samaritan’s Purse they asked me where I wanted to serve.  I thought back to my trip to Nigeria that year, and how oppressive it felt to drive through the Northern part of the country.  I realized that my heart was to serve in Muslim ministry somewhere in West Africa.  The town of Mango is within the famous “10/40 window”.  This is the area of the world that sits between 10 and 40 latitudes; within it lies the majority of the world’s poverty and unreached people groups.  What is an unreached people group?!  This is the term given to a group of people united in language and culture, who don’t even have access to hearing the Gospel.  It does not just refer to people groups who aren’t Christians, but instead to groups who have never even had the opportunity to hear about Christ.  One if these such groups is called the Fulbe (or Fulani), who are a Nomadic tribe found throughout West Africa comprised of about 20 million people spread over 19 countries and 99% Muslim.  This group of people is looked down upon by the tribes around them, as they are seen as refusing to conform to groups around them, living in “the bush” and maintaining century-long traditions.  Their lives as herdsmen are tightly tied to their cattle and being able to keep their cattle healthy is a huge opportunity for ministry (ANY VETS OUT THERE WANTING TO SERVE IN TOGO?!) Each smaller Fulbe tribe also carry their own traditions that can vary widely.  One of my good Fulani friends is part of a tribe that is not allowed to sing!!  I am praying for the day that I might hear her sing sweet words of Praise!

Pray for the over 300,000 people in Northern Togo who are considered a part of unreached people groups.  Pray for the hospitals in Togo and we continue to need people to serve both Northern and Southern ministries in Medical (Doctors, Nurses, Pharmacists, Lab Technicians, Xray/Echo techs), Administrative, Church Planting, IT, and Accounting!!  Pray that as I continue to raise support, I might be able to return to Togo by Jan 2015, in time for the opening of the hospital.

A HUGE THANK YOU to the 10 people who have already committed to monthly or yearly giving, as well as the 8 people who have given one-time gifts!  These have already put me at 40% of my needed support!  What a great encouragement this has been!  Many thanks to those of you who have committed to prayer, as this is truly how the Lord works, so that we may be a part of HIS ministry to the Togolese.

Grace and Peace-

Friday, August 9, 2013

4 countries, 4 states, 6 weeks

SO......i'm the worst blogger ever.  As you can see, I totally skipped the month of July...oops!  I actually spent about 6-7 weeks traveling outside of Togo for various reasons.  First, I headed from Togo to Ghana in order to fly to France and joined a group from my home church (Sojourn Church, Louisville, KY) for a missions trip.  It was an awesome time of getting to see and meet people from home while serving the Lord in another place.  I would LOVE to talk about what we did in France, but actually, I can't. :-)  The organization that we work with is involved in ministry that is better left.........a little under-cover.  BUT pray for the missionaries in Southern France--God is doing a great work there!

Other than my family, I think these 2 miss me the most!

My niece Harley- now 2 years old! She was a few
months old when I left the US

After a week or so with my church, I was able to meet up with some close friends and explore Southern France a bit, and return to Switzerland to visit my old stomping ground where I did language school for 5 months.  It was all a sweet time mixed with a little western life culture shock, but I was thankful for it.

I then headed to the US where I had the opportunity to see my family.  My sister Patti actually had NO IDEA I was even coming to the States, so I dressed up as a Starbucks barista and totally surprised her!  It was probably the BEST surprise E.V.E.R!! (see my facebook page for the video!)
I got the chance to see my nieces and nephews who had grown so much since I left the US.  My nephew Luke, 13 years old, is now taller than I am!  The time went fast, but I savored it, as the trip to the US was unexpected.

After a few days in Louisville as well, I headed off to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, which was actually the purpose of my trip to the States.  As I have spent about 15 months in Togo, I realize that this is where I would like to continue to serve the Lord with the skills and heart He has given me, in both medicine and for the Togolese people.  I decided to start the process of becoming an official long-term missionary with ABWE (Association of Baptists for World Evangelism), which is the organization that runs our hospital.  As most of you know, I am currently employed by Samaritan's Purse.  This organizations supports my expenses on the field and any money raised goes towards ministry expenses (like the Pediatric Benevolence Fund).  In April, my time with Samaritan's Purse will end and I will be leaving Togo to return to the U.S. and continue to raise support.   If I have 50% of my support raised by July, and 85 % of my support raised by November, there is a chance I could be back in Togo by January 2015.   Of course, I realize that God has bigger (and often different) plans than I can often see, so I am praying for patience and flexibility through this process!

This is a picture of all the new ABWE heading to Togo in the
next few years.  Pray for all of us as we start pre-field training
and support raising!
I am hoping that some of you might prayerfully consider joining me on this journey through financial support.  In order to come back to Togo, I will need $3500 per month of committed support.  I'm looking for people who can start supporting now and those who could also commit to starting in April.  I'm praying that some individuals and/or churches may give $10 per month and others $500 per month.  Follow along in the months and year to come (with my fun thermometer on the left side of my blog page) and see what can
happen when we join together!  The Lord has gifted us and equipped us in different ways, and I look forward to sharing more with you in the months to come, of how you can be a huge part of Christ's love being shared here in Togo.

Thank you SO VERY MUCH to those of you who have already supported me throughout my time here: care packages, encouraging e-mails and letters, finances, PRAYER, and so much more.  God provides for me daily through YOU!

Grace and Peace

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

"Where O death is your Victory? Where O death is your sting?"

Abiba, a 15 year old orphaned Muslim girl, along with her aunt and cousin, arrived at HBB in mid-January.  From a Small village 3 hours north of the hospital, they heard about HBB from a mobile médical team that had gone to their village.  When Abiba developed a mass in her abdomen, they knew HBB was where they should go.

Abiba’s inital assessment and diagnostic testing indicated she had an ovarian tumor requiring surgery.  Once in the operating room, the surgeon found that her abdomen was actually full of metastatic cancer.  A large tumor was removed and sent out to a Michigan pathologist who processes our spécimens for free.

After the surgery, one of our full-time missionaries along with one of our chaplains met with Abiba and her family members.  They gently, yet thoroughly explained the seriousness of her prognosis, metastatic ovarian cancer, that would soon take her life.  They were also able to share the gospel and pray with the family.  Over the next few days the chaplain continued to lovingly share the Love and message of Jesus Christ and before she was discharged home, Abiba, her aunt and cousin placed their trust in Christ.

When Abiba returned home she was met by a local pastor who had been contacted by the hospital chaplain.  Too weak to go to church, the church came to her, discipled her and ministered to her needs.  Four weeks later the pathology report was sent to HBB, indicating that Abiba had Burkitt Lymphoma—an agressive, yet treatable cancer.  Since the family had no phone, the pastor was contacted and sent to tell the family she she must quickly reutrn to HBB for treatment.  After several days, when there was still no sign of her at the hospital, the pastor was called once again.  Returning to Abiba’s family, he discovered that they had no money to return to HBB for médical care.  When we heard of this, money was quickly donated to cover the transportation and médical expense to treat Abiba.

She got wheeled into the hospital as a pile of skin and bones.   I knew that she was likely too sick to start chemotherapy treatment, but it was also her only chance of survival.  Everything was explained to Abiba and her aunt and treatment was started. 

Surviving the first round of treatments was a great encouragement to everyone.  It was a joy to see her smile and be able to pray and encourage her in her new faith in Christ.  Unfortunately when it came time for round two, she did not show up to the hospital.  Once again, the pastor was contacted and donations were given to transport Abiba to the hospital—this time alone.   Her aunt could not come due to another sick member of the family and the decision was made for the hospital to temporarily “adopt” Abiba.   She stayed with a well-known woman at our “cuisine” and money for food was donated.  On days that she was strong enough, she eagerly asked to go to church services.  She became a part of our hospital family.

Sadly, after her third cycle of chemotherapy she became very weak and had signs that the cancer was advancing despite our best efforts.  Her family was notified to come see her if they wanted to say good-bye.  Our chaplains discussed her condition to her, making sure that she knew that God loved her and that a lack of healing was not because of her lack of faith, nor a lack of Love on the part of Christ.  He loved her fully and completely and she would soon be spending her days in the arms of her Savior.

The day after her family arrived, they decided to take her home.  She was not fully conscious and very weak.  I kissed her on the forehead and prayed softly with her as her ailing body lay across the taxi.  As I cried I told her family that I was sorry, but that I was crying for myself and my loss and not hers—for she would be meeting her Savior today.  Our Chaplain, Pastor Jeremy, then prayed with the family members and they left.

We received word later that day that Abiba had gone to be with the Lord during the journey home.  And while my heart ached for the loss, the Holy Spirit reminded me that he had done a great work in her and allowed her to live long enough to experience the Love of Jesus Christ alongside a family of believers. 

Pray that her life and testimony continue to work in the lives of her family. 
Rejoice that the Lord’s work is being accomplished here in Togo through HBB.
Praise God that His Word and Truth bring Hope to a world in need!

“O death, where is your victory?
 O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
 1 Corinthians 15:55-57

*Thanks to Donna Larson for her contributions to this blog.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

1 YEAR: How did I get here?

March 31st marked my 1 year anniversary in Togo.  In some ways it seems silly to mark a 1 year anniversary because, well…it’s only “1”.  In light of so many missionaries who have come before me and even those with whom I serve alongside marking 20, 25+ years on the field, “1” seems silly.   But of course, to get to 20, you must pass through 1.

Like any anniversary it causes someone to pause and look back and what has been accomplished (or what hasn’t been accomplished).  And it’s only natural to think about how I got here in the first place. 

The only answer to explain how I got here is God, and His hand of orchestration and direction.  But a more specific answer to how I got here:  a break up. 
I wasn’t planning on coming to Togo, and honestly, I wasn’t planning on doing missions until after I had done a Pediatric Heme/Onc fellowship, gotten married and found someone to do job sharing with me, so that I could split my time between the US and somewhere overseas.  That was the plan.  THE Plan.  MY plan.  I had no doubts about this plan, and I was sure that God approved of my plan as well.   Why wouldn’t God approve of this marvelous plan?

Oh how to look back and read our own foolish minds!  Sigh

My retrospective 20/20 vision allows me to see that although there was nothing evil or sinful about THE Plan, it wasn’t HIS plan.  And if I had been honest with myself and the Lord, I would’ve admitted that sooner.  Because years before, I had been to a medical missions conference and knew that God told me to ‘GO’.   It wasn’t a secret. He didn’t hide this plan from me.  It was clear—very clear.

But as time goes on, so starts the bargaining process.  “I will go, but AFTER my fellowship.”  “I will go, but as a frequent short-term missionary.” “Of course I will go, but only when ‘he’ is ready.” 

There is a Parable in Luke 14 called “The Parable of the Great Banquet” where a man invited many friends to a great banquet but they all gave excuses involving the cares of the world and wouldn’t come.  So the man told his servant to go out to the streets and invite the poor, the lame, the blind and anyone else who would come. 
Jesus is addressing the Pharisees and is referring to the kingdom of God, but I think the parable applies to any situation where the Lord invites us, or calls us, to be a part of His ministry and we find excuses to go our own way.

Sometimes the Lord allows us to go our own way, follow our own Plan for quite some time.  And sometimes, in His great mercy, he breaks our Plans…. breaks our Spirit even, in order to show us a better Way—His Way….HIS Plan.

The Lord gently did this for me through the break up of a relationship.  It was quick, unexpected, unwelcomed, and painful.   But even before the dust of my heart had settled, He showed me the Path that I had stepped off of in efforts to pursue my Plan and not His own.  And He gently said, “I don’t want you to wait 10 years to go overseas.  That may be the plan I gave Him, but I told you to go NOW.”

There is nothing wrong with relationships.  There isn’t anything sinful about pursuing further training in a career.  There is only sin in disobedience.  And it is possible to pursue Good Things and build relationships with Godly people while being disobedient, if it isn’t what the Lord asked you to do. 

So when God saw in my heart that I was more willing to follow another person than I was the plan God had already given me, it was time to step in.

It just so happened that the following week was the Global Mission Health Conference in Louisville, KY—a conference I had attended for the past 6 years—the conference where God had shown me clearly that I was to be a medical missionary.
And on the last day of the conference, as all the booths were shutting down, a friend mentioned Samaritan’s Purse and their Post-Residency Program.  I ran back to find their booth and a wonderful lady was there packing up materials.  I asked for an application and the rest is history, as they say.

The following year, at the same conference, I had already been accepted into the program and two representatives from ABWE Togo took me to lunch and told me about what the Lord was doing in Togo, and the vision they had for the Word of Christ to reach those who needed Him both physically and spiritually.  I walked away from that lunch knowing right then that I was moving to this small West African country.

I would love to say that every single day here has been amazing, and most of them are.  But, there are days that are extremely tiring, lonely, and discouraging.  Still, every day here is a GIFT and a reminder that His Plan is always the BEST plan if we are seeking His Will and His Name to be known among ALL people.  I wouldn't trade this last year for anything.

Many of you have been with me through this entire process and I cannot say enough about the impact you are having on my life and the lives of the Togolese—from prayer to financial support, e-mails, cards and packages.  A huge THANK YOU to Jeremy and Karrisa Wilson who came to visit and work her for 2 weeks, Monika (my roommate from Switzerland) who spent her 3 week vacation here visiting, along with my parents who were willing to travel on Christmas Day in order to come out and see me!  Thank you to Sojourn, my home church, and the community groups there that are always praying for me and helping take care of my Louisville life.  And thanks to all of my friends and family who have always encouraged me to follow Christ, even if it means moving half-way around the world. The list can go on and on.  So Happy 1 year Anniversary to…..YOU, and your willingness in joining the Lord’s work in Togo!  
I miss you all greatly but, may this be the first of many more Togo anniversaries to come. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


Yesterday I sent a 2.5 year old little girl with cancer home to die.  I explained to her hopeful parents that I didn't have the treatment for her disease and that she would die....soon.  I told them it would be the most painless for her if they stopped going to the hospital for transfusions and she was allowed to drift off to sleep gradually from severe anemia.  The parents understood and were discharged home.

I tell you this not to bring up the heart felt emotions that we have while watching TV commercials showing starving African children who look up at the screen, eliciting enough guilt about a Western lifestyle to generate a $20 donation.  I tell you this because it's real life.

There will be no bake sales or t-shirts or dinner's out to raise money for her treatment.  No 'Make-a-Wish Foundation trip to Disneyland, hospital gown with balloons or colored picture of family hanging on the walls.

There will be no photoshop image of her on this blog and I won't be sharing her name.  This might make it easier to allow her story to slip into the abyss of statistics that plague the countries of Africa but honestly, if we need pictures and dramatic music backgrounds to move our hearts for the poor and the dying, what does that say about us? About me?

My question to anyone reading this blog is: "What would you have said?"

What would you have said to this girl, to this family?
Maybe, "She has an incurable disease."
That's not really true.  Her disease is likely quite curable if she was born in a developed country.

Some of you reading this may not believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior, as The Savior.  Some may not agree with the fact that our hospital delivers both healthcare and the Gospel message.  Some have said "Religion doesn't belong in 'charity' work."

Stop. Pause. Reflect.

It was a crushing moment to speak with this family and send this girl home.  Whether you claim Jesus as Savior or not, all of us, staring into her big brown eyes long to cry out "LIFE IS NOT SUPPOSED TO BE THIS WAY!"

And it's not.

"Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned--for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law.  Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who was a pattern of the one to come. But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God's grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many!  Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man's sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification.  For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God's abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.  Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men." _ Romans 5:12-18

Death reigns because sin entered the world.  And the only Hope to break the power of death is HOPE in Jesus Christ who accomplished what we could not do for ourselves.

I could not give this family Hope in any physical thing: not me as her doctor, not medications, not a witch-doctor.  There is ONLY ONE who has conquered the grave and He is the only one in whom we can place our HOPE.

Truth is, even if I could treat this little girl's cancer, she will still die one day.  And the real point is that we all have a cancer growing inside of us...called sin.  Good works and deeds to "out-weigh" this cancer of sin is akin to drinking a lot of orange juice hoping that our leukemia will disappear.  The consequence of sin, just like cancer, is certain death.


You won't remember this girl or her story a year from now.  And by the end of this week we'll spend more time over our Saturday night plans for entertainment than we will lifting up this girl and her family in prayer.

Just. Honesty.

I'm not going to tell you about the rest of the conversation I had with her family.  I invite YOU to have the conversation with her family in your mind, in your heart.

What should be our response?

What will be your response?


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Berna's Journey- Part 2 (finally!)

Berna’s Journey- Part 2

(Sorry for the long delay)
Stepping off the plane with Berna on my back, I was looking forward to the ambulance that would be waiting for us on the other side of customs.  Berna seemed less and less responsive and I was relieved to be in country.  Handing our passports over to customs I was immediately told, “you don’t have a visa.”  I explained our situation, in tears, and told him of our urgency to get to the hospital.
“You need a visa.”
Frustration, scared and tired I was brought to a room to buy our visas.  I couldn’t help but feel that precious time was slipping away.  But finally, after getting our luggage we stepped out into the meeting area and saw……no one.  No ambulance, no representative from the charity organization, no one.   Suddenly a small Ehtiopian woman walked up to me and said, “Are you waiting for someone?  I think he was here but then had to leave because the plane was late.”
I broke down crying, “She needs to go to the hospital.  I think she is going to die.”
A group of three Ethiopians were now with us and one of them quickly offered their cell phone to me.  I called the doctor that was awaiting us and he told me he would have the ambulance sent right away.   After hanging up, one of the men said, “are you trying to go to Korean hospital?”  I said yes.  He then said, “Let’s go. I will take you.”  Through my tears I told him that I had no Ethiopian money with me and couldn’t pay him.  “No problem,” he said, “She needs to go now.”
Praise Jesus!!
We finally arrived to Korean hospital around 11pm and I was fully expecting the doctor to take Berna to the OR immediately to have a shunt placed.  This way, after a couple days in Ethiopia she could still go to the U.S. and have her tumor removed by the team awaiting her in Louisville. 
After some initial lab tests, we met the attending physician who took a look at her MRI (imaging of her brain done in Togo) and said to me, “I cannot put in a shunt.”
My heart dropped.
My dear Jesus, Berna is going to die here in Ethiopia without her family.
“So what are you telling me?”
He proceeded to explain to me that putting a shunt in could result in a part of her brain being pushed upwards through  her skull and would kill her.  He then told me that he was going to take out her tumor—thus performing the surgery she was supposed to have done in Louisville.
You might think that this was good news, but in fact, it was terrifying news to me.  Here is a surgeon that I know nothing about, in a hospital I have never been to, and I have to agree to let Berna undergo a very delicate operation on her brain that could kill her.  But without it, she would surely die as well. 
I was forced to give over any last sense of control that I was trying to maintain, and give Berna over to the Lord.  He had orchestrated all things up to this point, and it was time to decide whether I trusted Him or not.  Berna’s mother had to hand her daughter over to me and I was being forced to hand Berna over to this stranger.  We all were giving Berna over into the hands of the Savior, trusting in His plan for her life and/or her death.
Berna’s surgery was gong to take place in 6 hours.  She was in and out of consciousness and her moments awake were spent screaming in pain and hitting her head until Morphine could be given to calm her.  We slept next to one another in the Emergency Room waiting for morning.  Around 5 am she had a seizure, but it thankfully stopped after only a minute.  I passed the hours praying incessantly and singing worship songs softly in Berna’s ear.  

They finally came to take Berna to the OR.  There is no way to say good-bye to someone you love when you think it may be the last time seeing them.  It was a hard glimpse into what I ask my patient’s families to do every day.  There was such a peace the Lord gave me during that waiting time.  I found that I wasn’t scared or worried because I knew The Great Physician was in control. 

After arriving to the ICU
I was able to be there when she came out of the OR and into the ICU.  And although it wasn’t really allowed, I stayed with her in her bed all night long (which turned out to be quite necessary because issues with a national resident doctor that was caring for her during the night).  After two very sleepless nights (for me) in the ICU, she was moved to a private room.  It had been an exhausting 72 hours and although I was thrilled that Berna was now in her own room, I realized that I now had the full-time care of a 4 year-old girl who didn’t speak my language and visa versa.

As Berna got better and better each day, things actually became more and more difficult for us.  She was becoming fully aware that her family was not around, she wanted Togolese food and she wanted the medications to be OVER!  Sadly, I couldn’t explain these things to her and my own resources were limited—I couldn’t leave her alone to go by taxi to a grocery store and I didn’t even know what she wanted if I could go!  Thankfully the Lord provided in BIG ways each time I felt like I couldn’t quite make it.  One day when I was quite tired, hungry and stressed out a group of doctors came in the room.  As they were introducing themselves I look passed one of them only to see Ed Boss, a familiar face and friend I had met in Thailand a few years passed!!  He was in Ethiopia at this same hospital working on setting up a Pathology lab.  I started crying when I saw him and gave him a big hug.   It was such an overwhelming, unexpected comfort to have someone I knew standing in front of me. Later in the week a wonderful missionary brought us some bread, butter, fruit and other meals that were an amazing blessing.  (butter became a very important means of getting Berna to stop crying! :-)  )Her Neurosurgeon kept us supplied with great yogurt and chocolate.  
We spent many hours watching
movies to pass the time.
Winnie the Pooh's Grand Adventure
was a favorite!

During the last days of our stay Berna would spend about 4-5 hours in a row crying and screaming in her mother tongue that she wanted to go home.  She would pack her suitcase, put on her shoes and stand at the door pleading with Jesus—literally.  It both broke my heart and mended it at the same time; two weeks ago she was hours away from death and I was pleading with the Lord to save her, and now she is crying out for the Lord to save her with her own voice, longing to go home.  I would back her in the African way and we would spend the night walking laps around the hospital and singing praise songs.  When she would fall asleep on my back I would just crawl into bed, leaving her on my back until the next morning.  Graciously, during the last weekend of our stay my friend and fellow SP missionary Stephanie Hall was in Addis to pick up her mom.  Stephanie speaks Amharic and knows her way around the city, so we were able to venture out of the hospital and give Berna (and me) a break from hospital life!  I will never be able to repay Stephanie for what she did for us at a very stressful time.

The Pariko family
Flying home!
Our journey home was much very different than the journey there.  Berna colored and slept for the majority of the journey.  We were both very excited to put our feet on Togo soil.  The reunion with her family was so very sweet.  The pastor from her church also met us at the airport.  Berna sat down next to her sister pointing to all the little scars left on her hands from all the IVs.

Unfortunately, about 36 hours after arriving home Berna came to the hospital with CSF (cerebrospinal fluid) leaking from an incision on her head.  This was very discouraging and required us going to the Operating room right away to try and plug the hole (basically).   I had to do several days in a row of taking out fluid by inserting a needle through her back so that the pressure in her head could stay low while the patch in her head healed.   Once again we were all back on our knees in prayer.  After a 10 day stay in the hospital, through the Lord’s intervention, the pressure in Berna’s head subsided and she went home.

I wish I could go through all the ups and downs, encouragements and discouragements, spelling out how God provided even in the midst of struggle and difficulty—but that blog would take more pages that most are willing to read.  The point of this blog, this story, is to highlight our weaknesses and to exemplify the amazing power of our Savior Jesus Christ, His plan for us, and our worship back to Him.

Dr. Safi- Berna's awesome Neurosurgeon!

Thank you to each and every person who had a role in Berna’s journey—doctor’s, Healing the Children, Dr. Safi (neurosurgeon who performed the operation), Stepahnie Hail, and the countless number of people who lifted us up in prayer day after day.  There aren’t enough ways express our thanks and appreciation.