Monday, December 1, 2014

Weather Report

How can you not love Togo?!
I am not one to write blogs that I like to call "Weather Reports"--lists of things I've been doing and will be doing over the last several weeks. But seeing that my last note was over 8 weeks ago, I will be making an exception!

September and October were filled with working, actually. Thanks to some very generous folks at Kosair Children's Hospital and University of Louisville Pediatrics Department, I was able to work about 20 overnight shifts in the Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Department. Many of you know that a long-time life goal I had was to practice Pediatric Heme/Onc, but life took me in another direction! Being able to once again take part in this area of US medicine was really wonderful, despite the overnight hours! The great news is that I was able to reconnect with some of the doctors who work in this area and meet the new director as well, who has shown interest in helping develop more sustained Heme/Onc treatments in Togo. This has been a long-standing need, so please pray as we work out the logistics of finding medications and the best possible diagnostic techniques. 

I was also able to reconnect with some amazing doctors and researchers in the U of L Neonatology Department. If you have been following me during my Togo journey, you are all too familiar with our volume of premature infants and newborn care. During a meeting with two of these wonderful people they asked if I had a transcutaneous bilirubinometer. This complicated term is basically a way to detect how jaundiced (or yellow) an infant is without having to take a blood sample. Because of our babies dark skin, jaundice can be difficult to see, but checking a blood level on every infant is cost-prohibitive. I told them that I did not have this machine but that I had been desperately hoping to obtain one for the past 3 years! This wonderful woman Paula replied, "I think I have one in my closet at work. Would you like it?" PRAISE THE LORD!!  Of course, I replied with a resounding YES! This amazing gift saved us thousands of dollars, so please pray that the Lord blesses the generosity of these folks! 
Three of the Togo Pediatricians together in Louisville!

November started off with the Global Missions Health Conference-the largest Medical Missions conference in the world! Thankfully there were so many folks there who have served in Togo or will be serving in Togo, and we had a wonderful get-together one of the evenings that allowed everyone to meet and share stories. Elizabeth Fernandez (on the left) will be spending 2 years in Mango with me as part of the Samaritan's Purse program (the same program that I just completed). Kristi Tebo (on the right) was also in Louisville and she is also a Pediatrician that will be spending 2 years in Togo as part of the SP Program. She will be heading to Togo in about a years time to continue the work at HBB, the southern hospital. The Lord is sure raising up Pediatricians for Togo! 

I also spent 2 weeks of November back at the ABWE office to complete my last official steps of training. It was a great time of reuniting with other Togo missionaries working hard towards getting to the field, as well as meeting so many others who are waiting to be sent out all over the world! We received some great training on conflict resolution, finances, spiritual warfare, and leadership. 

My very last steps to be completed before flying back to Togo are the completion of a New Testament and Muslim Studies class.  With my departure date approaching (December 29th!) I decided to move back home to Chicago in order to spend more time with my family.  With my medical license and sending church Sojourn being located in Louisville, it was where I needed to be during my time back home. I am looking forward to getting to spend more consistent time with my family over the next 4 weeks. One of my grandmothers' health is very poor and I will likely not see her again after I leave this time. 

It's always difficult to look ahead to all that I will miss out on being far away--track meets, basketball games, holidays, and school plays. But I know that I'm supposed to be in Mango. I know it with all that I am. I'm obviously not a parent but I do think I have a glimpse of what it's like to be one--loving each child with 100% of your heart. You cherish the sweet things about them while praying that the Lord will change the parts that need refinement. Meanwhile you can't imagine your life without them. 

My sister Patti and I with the Marshall Fields Clock in Chicago.
Although this store is now Macy's, we refuse to accept it!
This is a glimpse of what it's like to be a missionary in a foreign land. I want to be in Togo with every fiber that makes me whole. But I long for the same thing regarding being here in the US with my friends and family. I can easily list the beauty and horrors of each place, the pictures of grace and need for redemption on both sides of the ocean. I'm grateful to be living in a time where I don't have to choose one over the other. Missionaries no longer pack their belongings in a coffin and kiss their loved ones once and for all. I often joke that we live during a "wimpy" missionary time, where Skype and airline tickets are always at our fingertips. Maybe the Lord knew I needed to live now instead of back then. Maybe I wouldn't have gone. 

Please pray for my time remaining here in Chicago. Pray that I would spend it well and balance the preparations to go with the joy of spending hours with family. Pray for my upcoming transition back to Togo as I re-experience the culture shock of returning. Pray that I will transition well, and not overwhelmed by, my new living situation (I will be living in town on a small compound with a Fulani family, opposed to on the hospital compound). Please also pray for new prayer and financial partners. I am overwhelmed and grateful for everyone who has sacrificed to make my departure possible. It's only because of your prayer and gifts that I will be in Togo in time for the hospital doors opening. A few partners have had to step back which is leaving an opportunity for anyone who has considered monthly giving to join in! 

Please let me know how I can also be praying for you during this time! I consider it a privilege to be a part of petitioning the Father on behalf of you, as it brings me an opportunity to also Praise Him when those prayers are answered. 

You are loved.
Account #: 0135691

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Hands and Feet. Hats and Ebola.

I'm not sure where the last 2 months have gone! I spend several weeks traveling to various conferences I was required to attend, and thankfully got the chance to meet some amazing folks along the way!

One of my travels brought me to a small baptist church in Greer, South Carolina. The connection to the church was random in and of itself, since it began when I received an e-mail from a complete stranger not long after getting back on US soil. The e-mail introduced me to this wonderful couple to wanted to join my Togo support team! Not only was this a complete shock and blessing straight from the Lord Himself, but the couple continued to seek ways to be involved in the Togo ministry. This resulted in "Togo Tuesdays"--a time when folks from Victor Baptist, ages 8-80, get together to crochet hats and toys for our infants and children in Togo! I can't express what a blessing it was to get to go personally visit this church and meet all the people involved in crocheting and praying for Togo!

Experiences like this one are always humbling as I watch a practical way that the church functions as the hands and feet of Jesus himself. And although, making baby hats and toy animals may seem small to some, it's not easy. And I don't mean that it's not "technically easy" (although learning to crochet can be difficult as I found out in Switzerland while my 90 year-old instructor frequently shook her finger at me while saying things I didn't understand!).  What I mean by not easy is that each of these folks is taking time out of their lives, using skills they possess, to do something for someone they have never met; a baby they will never hold; a child they will never speak to.

But, why?

I'm not going to answer that, for I think everyone probably has their own answer and I can't pretend to know them all! But although this might seem like quite the makes me think of Ebola.

EBOLA?! Yes, Ebola.

As you may, or may not realize, their is a large Ebola virus endemic going on in Africa. Chances are that the first you heard of it was when a US physician, Kent Brantley, who was serving in Liberia under Samaritan's Purse, contracted this deadly virus while trying to care for people suffering from the same.  Praise God that he is now well and home with his family. In fact, he is speaking before congress today to give a first hand account to what is happening in West Africa and what is needed to help with this epidemic.

The quick summary of Ebola is that it is a virus that has no cure. It is transmitted through body fluids like sweat, blood, vomit, diarrhea, and saliva. The current strain of Ebola in West Africa has a death rate of about 60% and there simply aren't enough medical staff nor medical centers to keep up with the exponential growth of the disease. There are several reasons that Ebola has not been contained up to this point which include: misconceptions to how it is spread, beliefs that Ebola isn't even real, people afraid to seek treatment, cultural practices such as burial rites (washing of a dead body that, in this case, results in continued spread of the virus from the deceased to family members), lack of trained medical volunteers, and a lack of clinics able to handle this level of outbreak (just to name a few). So far, this current outbreak has reached 5 countries (Liberia, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Guinea, Nigeria), more than 4,000 people with estimates of a continuing growth to over 20,000 people without any end in site. This isn't meant to scare anyone, it's just reality.

But what does this have to do with hats?!

Since Togo is in the West Africa region that has been ravaged by this virus, our team is having to come up with "what if" plans.  I frequently get asked from folks here in the US if I will stay home and "wait it out." I will admit that this question always surprises me a little bit. Wait it out?

I think one reason that Victor Baptist crochets for Togo is because we have a need, and they can fill it! If Ebola reaches Togo, their need will be even greater than ever, and I can help fill it. Why wouldn't I go? How could I watch my friends and people I consider family suffer through a fearful endemic that I have a skill to help fight? Togo is one of my homes. Who doesn't go home during a time of need?

I understand the fear of Ebola. I understand fear, period. But the Bible says in 1 John 4:

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

Over my 2 years in Togo, I developed a love for the Togolese. How could I say "I love you, but I won't risk my life to serve you?" Isn't our life just a vapor? James 4: 14 says:

What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 

I think the Lord invites us to spend our lives serving. God surely isn't inviting us all to go serve in Africa treating Ebola! And I pray that Ebola never comes to Togo! But I am ready.  

So whether you make hats, treat the sick, raise your children, or invest people's money.....

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God's grace in its various forms.
1 Peter 4: 10

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Leaving Home to Come Home

Most of you know by now that I am home--at least, at one of my homes.  I left Africa on April 26th for Greece to spend a week at a medical conference where I could get some Continuing Medical Education credits completed while meeting with other medical missionaries from around the world.  I'm sure Greece is a wonderful place to visit, but I honestly didn't experience much of it as I was trying to wrap my mind around leaving Togo and getting ready to integrate into American culture.

I landed in Chicago on May 5th and was emotionally well until the plane hit the tarmac and the reality of being back couldn't be denied.  I began to cry while listening to the woman sitting behind me talk about her favorite Michigan hotel that costs over $300/night to stay at.  Sigh.  I wanted to say Did you know that $300 could treat 300 small children for malaria in a village?! 
"It's okay", I told myself, "it's just different here."

Successful track meet with my sister and her kids. Left to right:
Emma, Patti, me, Mary and Luke
Some of my family met me at the airport:  My sister, Patti, had brought me some bacon-maple donuts while my nephew Luke made me a welcome sign consisting of random French words just to test me language abilities. :-) My mom was there as were 2 of my nieces, Mary and Emma (who all made signs as well).  It was surreal to see their faces in person opposed to through the Skype computer screen. Overall, I was quite emotionally drained but was looking forward to the time ahead with family and friends.

The 2 weeks that followed were spent in Chicago where I celebrated my dad's college graduation from Moody Bible Institute, got to watch my nieces and nephews in several track & field competitions and a gymnastics performance, see extended family, catch up with some close friends, eat cheese, eat some more cheese, and FREEZE inside of every store and home with air-conditioning.

I moved down to Louisville, KY on May 20th. The Lord provided an amazing, generous and kind family for me to live worth during my time in the States. He also provided a job at the hospital I trained at here in Louisville that allows for my frequent travel schedule. I've gotten to be a part of the Global Health Program in both the residency and the medical school that I attended, and it's been very sweet getting to attend my home church, Sojourn.

It's obvious to ask, "How are you adjusting to the US?" I knew there would be some reverse culture shock, but I thought I knew what I would be "shocked"over--the materialism, what people wear, large stores like Wal-Mart. But I expected to be able to take comfort in people and catching-up with life. I think the "punch-in-the-stomach" was when I realized that I somehow flipped a switch with the material changes in culture (like $4 coffee), but I was quickly overwhelmed by people.  This might not seems strange to some, but anyone who knows me well, knows that 3 years ago it would've been impossible to overwhelm me with people.

It's no one's fault, it's just what happens when you step away from your life for 3 years. Standing in a room filled with people you once knew, who once knew you.  So familiar, yet not familiar at all. It's like you stepped away from the movie and someone pressed a fast-forward button and wants you to fit into the rest of the movie.  You try, but you can't because you just can't shake the feeling of confusion or that everyone knows something you don't. You feel like a 4-year old child at your parents fancy dinner party. People want to engage you, but they either don't know what to ask or they aren't interested in the stories a 4-year old has to tell.
Togo missionary reunion in Chicago with Erin and Cindy

This is all sounding very depressing, which isn't my intention. I'm just trying to give you a glimpse of what many missionaries experience upon returning home. I have had amazing reunions and times of great joy with friends and family since my time back. Rejuvenating moments of sweet embraces that could have only come from the Lord. I've especially cherished times with people one-on-one or in small groups.

Sarah Groves, a Christian music artist, has a song called "Painting pictures of Egypt" that expresses things well:

I dont want to leave here, 
I dont want to stay
It feels like pinching to me either way
And the places I long for the most 
are the places where I've been
They are calling out to me 
like a long lost friend

Its not about losing faith, 
its not about trust
Its all about comfortable 
when you move so much
And the place I was wasn't perfect 
but I had found a way to live
And it wasn't milk or honey 
but then neither is this

I've been painting pictures of Egypt,
 leaving out what it lacks
'Cause the future feels so hard 
and I wanna go back
the places that used to fit me 
cannot hold the things I've learned
Those roads were closed off to me 
while my back was turned

So I have been back in the US for 10 weeks now, which still seems very strange most days. I have done a lot of traveling for various reasons and have A LOT of traveling left: Harrisburg, PA (end of July), North Carolina followed by Tennesse (August), possibly Boston late August, Fort Meyers, Florida (end of Sept), Harrisburg PA (mid November).  I'm sure I'll have some trips to Chicago, Indianapolis and Wisconsin mixed in as well! :-) If you are in or near any of these places I would love to see you!! (don't be scared off by what I wrote about earlier!!).

Thanks to many of you, I am on track to fly back to Togo during the first week of December, which gives me 1 month to help the team prepare for the opening of the Hospital of Hope on January 8, 2015!! I oscillate between 97-100% support on any given month and I am very appreciative to everyone who continues to give during this long journey.

Please continue to pray for Mango and for Togo-especially during this time of Ramadan. Pray for the team who continues to work in Mango building both the hospital and relationships as they invest in the Kingdom.  And for those of you in the Louisville area on September 26th, we are planning a benefit concert here in Louisville called "Music for Hope". You can follow us at and stay tuned for how to be involved!!

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Was blind but now I see

Some of you may remember a boy named Bawa from Mango.  I wrote about him and his story in a previous blog post named "How Beautiful on the Mountains" (if you haven't read it, pause now to go look at it).  In very brief summation, Bawa was a 22 year-old young man who had chronic type 1 diabetes that wasn't diagnosed until a fellow missionary brought him down from Mango to see me at the Southern Hospital, HBB.  He was already blind due to his illness and was the size of a 10-12 year old. His mother, although uneducated, worked very hard to learn how to administer Insulin and take care of him the best she could.  After a difficult battle, including a miraculous recovery from a diabetic come where we discovered Bawa at a local hospital unconscious and with a blood sugar of 20, Bawa passed away.  It was difficult for all of us, but most of all for his family.  It was the 7th time this mother would have to bury a child.  Only one child remained.

Thankfully, the same faithful missionary who began helping Bawa, continued to visit his mother and grandmother in their small one room hut, sharing the gospel, meals, and providing encouragement whenever she could.  I also made sure to visit this sweet family each time I visited Mango.  Unfortunately, my visits were not frequent due to the distance.  But during the first visit I had after Bawa's passing, I watched how is also blind grandmother sat in despair and had no likely hope for the improvement of her own physical life as well.  She spent her time seated on the hut floor and relied on other to cook for her and even help her go to the bathroom.  Blindness in the third-world setting is somewhat of a death sentence, or at least condemnation to a life of solitude and complete reliance on others.

As we sat and shared the gospel message with her one again and spoke of our memories of Bawa, I turned to ask my friend, "Has anyone ever prayed for her eyes to be healed?" Although I am a physician, I know nothing of the eyes.  (ask my medical school friend Lana who went into Ophthalmology and she will confirm that I shrink away from anything eye related!!).  I had to history to confirm the etiology of her blindness or whether it was curable from a medical stand-point.  All I knew is that I knew The Healer and He might be willing to heal her as a gateway to showing her His amazing love and mercy, and to show her that He was and is the One true God.  We told her what we were going to do and and I crawled over to her, placing my hands on her head and prayed for the Lord to heal her as a means to show Himself to her.  I wasn't expecting her healing to be immediate or to take place through me.  But I was praying with confidence that the Lord would work.

Later that month, my missionary friend told me that after our meeting and prayer time with Bawa's grandmother, she decided to take her to see an eye doctor to find out if she could be healed medically.  The news was that although she was permanently blind in one eye, he felt that the other eye was repairable!!  It turned out that she suffered both from cataracts along with an chronic infection called Trachoma, which causes an inflammation of the lid which in turn causes the lashes to scrape against the cornea, causing blindness.  The doctor explained that he would perform some injections for the infection and after that had healed, he would remove her cataract.   Although painful, the first intervention allowed to to distinguish between light and dark.  I was able to visit her after she had completed this portion of care and I reminded her that although our friend and the doctor were vital in her healing, it was Christ alone who had worked to make this happen and he was worthy of our worship.

The day after leaving Togo I received an email from my friend in Mango that grandma had undergone the cataract removal operation and that she could see again.  Below is an excerpt from that e-mail:

Just got back from visiting them. She has been taking her medicine as indicated and was chattering away when I first arrived. I had put my hand in front of her face to see if she could see it and she laughed and laughed at why I was doing that and started talking about the colors in my pagne and how my pagne colors were different from hers. She said she is now able to walk outside of the hut by herself to go use the bathroom and is starting to be able to see things. She said she can't clearly distinguish all of the features on people's faces, but she can tell when people are there and can tell if someone is black or white. She was a hoot this morning. They said to tell you hello and thank you for everything in Lome. I was asking her again about the trip down and back and she said she was served an enormous amount of patte, much to her delight. She and Bawa's mom say thank you for the trip and everything you did to get them back up here and for making sure they were not hungry. When I was leaving she grabbed my pagne again and gave one more run down of the colors, and then Bawa's mom was pointing to different objects to see if she could say what they were, like my keys, which she did. It was kind of surreal. I don't know if this description does it justice, but hopefully when you read this it can capture some of the joy of the moment and the freedom and independence she feels.
I think our Father has the ability to heal instantly, and without our help.  He created us from dust and is all-powerful to intervene on our behalves at all times.  But I am amazed and when he allows us to be used in practical ways, in order to display the gospel message of love and restoration among those we love and care about.  I have no doubt that the Lord will use this to draw this family to Himself, to show them His love and power, to show them that they are not forgotten.

It was such a sweet conclusion to my time in Togo and I can't wait to see Grandma face to face for the first time.

Grace and Peace

p.s.  FYI- yes, I am now back in the US and will be writing soon about my transition and future plans.  Please pray for my adjustment to US life and culture and for my plans while I'm here over the next 7 months.  Don't hesitate to e-mail or call if you'd like to set up a time where we can visit one another as well!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Beyond the Peephole

There is a people group here in Togo called the Fulani (or Fulbe).  Actually they are a nomadic people group across West Africa numbering over 26 million.  Taken as a whole, they are the largest unreached people group in the world and are "credited"with bringing Islam to West Africa.  I think my heart grew for these people over 10 years ago as a heard a missionary telling his story of working alongside a group of Fulani in Northern Nigeria.  Arriving in Togo and finding that this people group was here was  like opening a present you didn't even know you were getting.  It's hard to explain why I love them so much, but I like to think that the Lord put it there.

You might be thinking, "if she loves them so much, why doesn't she ever talk about them in her blog." Good question.  Honestly, the Fulbe people are a very private people and experience a lot of racism within the countries they are in.  The majority of them live out "in the bush" and don't learn local language dialects.  They keep to themselves and are usually heard from when fights break out over their cattle trespassing or ruining someone's farming land.  Although I have tried to learn as much as I can about their culture, worldview, and language during my time here, it feels like I am trying to explain their world using my view through a peephole in the door!  We don't even have anyone at our hospital who speaks their language and communication is often done through made-up sign language and/or translating into 2 to 3 different languages to find something someone understands. 

Generously, God has another missionary in Mango who loves the Fulani people.  She is about the same age as me and has been learning the language and building relationships with several families during her years living in Togo.  Through her, I have also become friends with a couple of these families and visit them during my trips to Mango.  Since my time in Togo is fast coming to an end, I took the 8 hours trip to Mango to visit my Togolese and missionary a last time before heading home.  

My first morning in Mango, I wake up to find that we were invited by one of our good Fulani friends, Awa, to a infant baptism ceremony out "in the bush".  Although our friend Awa lives in town, her extended family lives out about 30-40 minutes by moto, in a traditional Fulani camp.  I was giddy with excitement as this would be only the second time I had been to a Fulani camp, and the first time ever being part of an official ceremony!!  An infant baptism for this group has nothing to do with water, but instead is the time where the men choose a name for the infant and the child's head is shaven.

When we arrived, the men and women were separate: men gathered together under a distant tree while the woman were passing the time in the huts ("huts" for the Fulani are VERY unique in style.  Think summer igloo. Seriously.)  One hut had the younger woman and another was filled with the older woman with children all around.  The inside was surprisingly spacious, cool (well, cooler than the 115 degrees outside) and welcoming.  About 20 minutes into sitting, chatting, and meeting the yet-to-be-named infant boy, a young girl pops her head in the door and says, "Ya-coob"(I wrote that phonetically of course), or Jacob.  All the woman nodded their heads and just kept talking away.  My missionary friend and I said, "That's it? That's the naming ceremony?!" We were shocked by the casual nature of it all and just laughed at our previously held expectations for the day.  About an hour later, our friend Awa entered a hut we were in with Jacob and pulled out a razor.  It was just the three of us there and she had decided that she would be the one to shave his head.  This was also so informal and struck us as hysterical.  Meanwhile, I enjoyed petting the calves that were wondering around and we shared a meal together.  We kept thinking what a gift it was to be invited in this tribes family gathering.  We also kept saying how we felt like we were in an episode of National Geographic!!

Over the last 2 years in Togo I can recall countless experiences, both rewarding and devastating, but few experiences come close to those of when I am no longer looking at a culture through a peephole, but instead, someone has opened the door for a short time, and let me walk in. 

Please join me in praying for the Fulani people of Mango and around the world.  It doesn't take much effort to search the news and find "fulani headlines" discussing the murder of christians and other difficult issues involving this people group in various nations.  Overall, they are a beautiful people created by God who need Jesus--no different than all of us.  Also please pray as I might have an opportunity to be living with a Fulani family when I return in December to Mango to work at the Hospital of Hope.  This could be a unique opportunity in language learning and sharing the love of Christ to people I love. 

Grace and Peace

Monday, March 10, 2014

A light in the shadows

Some months here in Togo are just rough.  Some months in life are just rough.  We seems to be under a shadow as we have had some incredibly difficult losses as a hospital over the last 4-5 weeks--many involving things that may have been all-together preventable.  I signed a death certificate every night last week.  This isn't a plea for pity as it is a recognition of reality. To paraphrase one of our other missionaries prayer letters she said- "I haven't been telling any good medical stories, but I can't seem to think of any….maybe it's because the sad stories just seem to overshadow the successful ones." And there comes a point, even in the most faithful of believers, when we stop and lift our tear-filled eyes to the heavens and say, "DON'T YOU SEE US LORD? Don't you see them?"

There is no greater place than the foreign mission field, to find out what your weaknesses are.  (and yes, the word weaknesses is definitely plural for all of us!) Not only will you, and everyone around you, see those weaknesses, but they will be magnified X 20 under the stress and culture shock of life.  My weakness magnified is pride.

As I had to explain to the mother of quadruplets that a second baby of hers would be leaving this world, all I could think about was that her sorrow was caused by my failure as a doctor. What did I miss?  What could I have done earlier? How did I let this happen?  As grief continues it evolves into anger, which is sometimes lands on God.  "Lord, how did YOU let this happen? Where were you?!" It's at this point when the Holy Spirit calls me by my nickname, Job.  Not because I am as faithful or have suffered anywhere near this Old Testament friend of God.  But because like Job, I feel like I want the chance to stand before a court and make my case before the Lord, in order to explain why these things shouldn't have happened.

If you've read the account, you know what response is coming from the Lord:

             Who is this that darkens counsel without wisdom?…
             Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth
              Tell me, if you have understanding.
             Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
             Or who stretched the line upon it? 

             On what were its bases sunk,
             or who laid its cornerstone,
             when the morning stars sang together
             and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

            “Or who shut in the sea with doors
             when it burst out from the womb, 
             when I made clouds its garment
             and thick darkness its swaddling band,
             and prescribed limits for it
             and set bars and doors,
             and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
             and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?

             “Have you commanded the morning since your days began,
             and caused the dawn to know its place,
              that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth,
              and the wicked be shaken out of it?
              It is changed like clay under the seal,
              and its features stand out like a garment.
              From the wicked their light is withheld,
              and their uplifted arm is broken.

            “Have you entered into the springs of the sea,
             or walked in the recesses of the deep?
             Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
             or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?
             Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth?

             Declare, if you know all this.   

The Lord goes on for several more chapters to show Job his mightiness and omniscience.  Job's appropriate response:

             “I know that you can do all things,
              and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
              ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
              Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
              things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
The Lord doesn't always respond to our sorrow this way, but for me it is often this way as the Lord shows me that He is indeed in all things and His sovereignty is sure.  He shows me that when the focus is my own failure, I am failing to recognize his glory and purpose.  I am also failing to recognize how he wants me to respond in a way that glorifies himself. As a result, there is nothing left to do but repent of thinking we know better.  Repent of believing that we are in control. And worship the ONE whose plan is above all things.  He never leaves us, nor forsakes us. He alone is righteous.  He alone is justice, love and mercy in perfect harmony.  He alone has conquered death and made eternal life with Him possible.  He alone makes beauty from ashes.  He is and always be the Savior, my Savior. 

There is a beauty and grace that is only to be found on the other side of suffering.  There is nothing more gut-wrenching that weeping alongside a mother over the loss of her child, nothing more humbling than holding a child while he takes his last earthly breath.  It is only the love of Christ that allows us to do these things and not be swallowed up in despair.  Because the answer for death here in Togo is not better medicine, a newer ventilator, or even more doctors--it's Hope, Hope in the One who conquered death so that it no longer reigns over us.  There can never be a true shadow over the hospital or over our lives when Christ is the center.  For Darkness can never overtake the light.  The light will always shine through, casting out darkness at all times.

"Lift up your eyes to the heavens, look at the earth beneath; the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment and its inhabitants die like flies. But my salvation will last forever, my righteousness will never fail." Isaiah 52:6

Grace and Peace


Saturday, February 1, 2014

How much is ONE worth?

When I was still a medical student shadowing “real doctors” around, there was a moment when I realized that as medical professionals, we hold a strange and uncomfortable power.  I first realized it moments before my attending physician told a man that he had cancer.  From the time we walked into the room until the moment he spoke those deafening words, I realized that we held this piece of information that would change him forever.  I also realized that we had to decide the right moment to deliver this news.  I remember that I kept thinking, “Just give him one more minute, one more minute of blissful unawareness.”

Unfortunately, this same type of unwelcomed power exists here in Togo as well, although in a tragically different way.  One must understand that the majority of cases we see here in Togo are illnesses that we have in the US as well (aside from things like malaria and a few others).  There are two major differences though: the advanced stage at which they present to us, and the availability of treatment for those illnesses.  For example: we currently have several children that have come recently with advanced cancer.  Since we don’t have a pathology lab, we sent our biopsies to the US to be read.  This process takes at least two weeks.  In the mean time, we have to decide whether or not to start treatment.  If we start treatment, but the result comes back with a type of cancer that we cannot help, we have wasted several precious vials of chemotherapy that we may need for another child in the future.  If we do nothing, and wait for the result, the patient may not survive until then.  We must make a choice.  Treating one child may prove to be the death sentence for another, when there isn’t enough chemotherapy to go around.  What do you do?

I walked into OB clinic the other day and saw a woman on the table who appeared to be carrying triplets at term.  I quickly found out that she was only 17 weeks pregnant (with 3 other children at home) and all that abdominal swelling was ascites (fluid in the abdomen that accumulates usually when your liver no longer functions well).   Due to past experiences here I said, “She has Hepatitis B”—an illness rarely seen in the US thanks to vaccinations.  The diagnosis was confirmed later that day and I sat talking with our OB doctor about the horrors of Hepatitis B and the likelihood that she may not survive to carry this baby long enough to be born.  Later that night that same doctor called me and exclaimed, “There is a treatment for Hepatitis B!!  We might be able to help this woman live!”  I felt like a thief taking his hope away as I responded: “I know, but we don’t have it here.” Sigh.  As to not complete deflate him, I told him I would ask my mom (who works in the pharmacy purchasing world) about the price of the medication and if we could get it sent over for her.  By the next morning, I continued my felony robbery spree as I told him that the cost was $100/month (and she needed a years supply= $1200).  Sigh.  I was so very impressed by his commitment to helping this ONE woman.  This was not the first, or even 10th time, I had seen this same case play out.  I sat there wondering, “After 22 months here, have I already lost sight of ONE?  This doctor knows there other woman out there with Hepatitis B.  He even knows that even if we somehow found the money to treat her, we couldn’t treat each case that came in.  But the following day, he told me that if some other labs looked promising, he was going to find a way to get her the medications.  I couldn’t help but cheer for him from within!  Even though I could hear so many arguments against it in my head.

Do you realize how many patients we could treat with that money?!
Do you know how many other Hepatitis B patients are going to expect this now?
Isn’t this a waste of resources, especially if she doesn’t get better after all?
Is it worth trying to save this ONE when we can’t save them all?

Although I truly believe that theses questions are valid, responsible and necessary, I don’t think they are the right ones when dealing with decision making around ONE patient that sits before us.

Our only true example to how to deal with this type of power/decision making/responsibility is to look at the only one who did it right, all the time—Jesus Christ.  Christ, throughout his ministry, ran his own missions hospital; or at the very least, a mobile medical clinic!  And upon looking at that ministry I notice two very important things: 1) He healed those whom God had brought to him. 2) He didn’t heal everyone in the crowd. 

Sometimes we must be sensitive to the Holy Spirit as to when he is asking us to act in an extraordinary way in a particular circumstance.  Perhaps, through the convictions of our OB doc, the Lord is asking us to “move mountains” on her behalf because of a plan He has that is bigger than you and I.  Of course, I’m no where near the physician that the Great Physician was and is.  But I am comforted by the fact that although he did have all the power in the world to heal all that came to him…he didn’t.  While it is beyond my finite comprehension to understand how and why he healed some and not others, I see that even in our ministry, we cannot do all things for all people.  But if we love the people that the Lord brings to us…love them in a way that goes beyond all understanding, and at the same time love the ONE who created all things—then and only then will we be able to use the small amount of power given to us, in a way that glorifies God and heals the nations.

Maybe the right questions are:
1) Have I spent time in prayer concerning the available resources and THIS patient’s specific care?
2) After some time in prayer, is the Holy Spirit asking me to go above and beyond my own and/or this hospital’s current resources?
3) What are the ramifications of NOT acting?
4)  Has the Lord already opened or closed doors in this situation that should be guiding my next steps?

I don’t know if we will be treating this woman or not….the jury is still out.  But if we do, it’s because the Lord brought her to us and moved in the heart of a specific doctor to say, “If we can’t treat the few cases that come to us, even if it costs that much, than what are we doing here?”  And I pray that the Lord’s name be glorified in all that we do, or don’t do.

Grace and Peace

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The countdown begins...

HAPPY NEW YEAR!  (I guess I owe everyone a belated Merry Christmas as well!)  I'm not sure where December disappeared to.  I find that as my months left here in Togo become less and less, time seems to be accelerating towards that April deadline.  I have officially been here for 21 months and while it has gone so quickly, it's hard think of a time before Togo. Premature babies that were born the month I arrived are now walking and beginning to talk!

As most of you know, I will be leaving Tsiko in 4 months, at the end of April, to head back to the US.  I will have finished 2.5 years with Samaritan's Purse Post-Residency Program (which included language school) and will be stateside until I am able to raise the necessary support, and finish the required training for ABWE.  I spent 4 days in December up in Mango, my future home.  Visiting Mango is always somewhat poignant for me as I see people and ministry that I love, yet am not yet a part of.  That being said, I would never trade in the time I have spent here at HBB, as there is a beautiful ministry here of Christ's love being shared and lives being changed--including mine.

The amazing, hard-working Hospital of Hope construction crew now has the entire hospital under a roof and tiling has began in the clinic and OR.  Walking around the empty rooms you can almost see and hear the patients that will line the halls in 1 year's time.
medical wards
Operating Rooms

I also got to visit some very dear Fulani friends of mine.  I met the wife over a year ago when another missionary brought here down to deliver her third child.  Although she had 2 living children, her two last deliveries ended in still-birth.  She spent over 3 weeks with us waiting to deliver and stayed about 2 weeks after.  Joyously for me, she stayed in my home with her healthy baby boy during the days that followed her hospital discharge.  We nicknamed her son "Petite mangue" (little Mango) and the name continues to this day.  He is now almost 13 months old and a cutie pie!  Please pray as their is a change I may be able to live with this family in a home they are currently building that is just down the street from the Hospital of Hope.  This would be an amazing opportunity for language learning (the language of Fulfulde) and a chance to really pour into their lives while sharing about the Good News.  I long to hear them singing His praises one day!

Also, this week the Northern team has been overwhelmingly humbled by a $250,000 grant that has been donated to the project, specifically for lab, X-ray, and solar power equipment!   This is a HUGE answer to prayer and an encouragement to know that we will be on track to open our doors with the necessary equipment on Jan 8, 2015!

Pediatrics Ward
Please keep in your prayers the continued needs of both HBB in the South and HOH in the North.  As some staff that help the South function, move north (especially Anesthesia Techs), this will leave holes in the South that need to be filled.  Both hospitals/fields are also in need of teachers, trained lab techs, and doctors, and well as church planters and chaplains.  God is working here in Togo and we are looking for folks who want to be a part of it!

I can't thank you all enough for your prayers and encouragement.  I am hopeful that I will finish out my last 4 months here in the South with enthusiasm and with attention to all the the Lord still has for me to accomplish for the Kingdom.  I am also hopeful that I will be able to return to Togo by Nov/Dec of 2014 to help open the Hospital of Hope.  I am trying to balance work & ministry while trying to complete my training requirements for ABWE so that nothing will delay my return.  I appreciate those who have stepped out in faith in supporting me already and I fully trust in the Lord's timing for my return to this country that I love and consider home.  Pray that while I have this huge goal for 2015, my eyes will stay fixed on what the Lord has for me here and now.

Praying that the Lord will show Himself to you in ways that expand your awe and wonder of His glory and grace.