Sunday, June 28, 2015

Through the Cultural Looking Glass

It is often strange living far away from American culture and life because you soon realize that your daily interests soon become that of the country you are currently living in, not the country you came from.  But since I grew up with the ideal that you could never go to bed without having watched the news (certainly ingrained in me since my grandfather was the editor of NBC news Chicago), I still struggle through the slow internet connection and impatiently wait as the headlines and photos download on my computer each evening.

What has become more and more evident is how each culture defines freedom, rights, hatred, laws, social norms, and sin.  During the many weeks that racial motivated tensions were (and still are) mounting across the US, two tribes here in Mango began fighting, which resulted in many displaced families and destroyed property and livelihoods.  While all is calm at present, it seems that these two tribes have a long-standing mistrust of one-another and the embers are always ready to burn for anyone stoking the fire. 

When the Togolese hear about the fighting going on in the US centered around racial tension, they are often confused and find it ridiculous that black and whites would be fighting for no other base reason than color.  But when I compared our countries difficulties with the tribal warfare taking place, they would just smile half-way and say, “oh, that’s just the way it’s always been.”

Meanwhile, we’ve recently been having very difficult discussions about what to do when married girls between the ages of 12-16 come into the hospital for pre-natal care and obstetric care. They are often brought in by an uncle or a female relative. More often than not, they are the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th wife of a man that is 20-30 years her senior.  These types of marriages are technically illegal, but culturally they happen every day and it’s the norm to complain, yet turn a blind eye as the “transaction” has already been completed and there’s nothing to be done.  Polygamy and child brides are the norm here, and regardless of approval, it is accepted by all.  Our American minds are immediate to call this rape, molestation, slavery, or just illegal at best.  But the husband did not steal the girl from a playground—her parents consented, a ceremony took place and they are living out in the open for all to see.  These aren’t dark alleys or private internet chat rooms.  While we, of course, do not agree with the practice, our first concern is figuring out how to make sure a 12 year old can deliver safely.

When the Togolese heard about the ruling of the Supreme Court yesterday, they were outraged. I didn’t make a comment either way, I just confirmed that it was, in fact, true. They were shocked and sad for us as Americans and for the world in general. We all just went about our day after the short blurb on American news realizing that our focus needed to be on the sick in front of us—a boy of 13 who came in as a near drowning after trying to save his brother (age 11) who had slipped while crossing the river. They were returning from a day of working in the fields.  I was secretly hoping that his comatose state could last as long as possible since the nightmare of finding out his brother was already dead and buried had not yet been realized.  When I later saw an American colleague we chatting briefly how cultural viewpoint changes everything. Togolese outrage on same-sex marriage while 12-year brides as 3rd wives having babies, although is looked down upon, is accepted as a cultural norm.  We are thankful for the Word of God that speaks to all cultures at all points in time.

I rarely, if ever, discuss political agendas and Supreme Court decisions because I’m not in that culture currently, and I don’t find that it’s fruitful conversation.  The Roman Empire was steeped in deep sin and idolatry.  All of Jesus disciples were waiting for him to make a political stance and bring in a moral-political reign over the nation.  His lack of doing this did not mean that he agreed with what was going on, but instead, that he knew that men’s hearts cannot be changed by laws or by force.  The larger issue isn’t lawful rights or an outdated flag—although the issues themselves are valid discussions.

My job here in Togo is to help show that true happiness is found when we completely find our joy in the Glory of God. Issues of tribalism, child labor, and child brides are all worthy, and necessary, causes to fight against in the political arena, but no law can change men’s hearts.  John Piper said, “sin is the suicidal exchange of the glory of God for the broken cisterns of created things.” Even the 10 commandments were not made because the Lord expected us to be able to keep them all. They were given to us as a mirror, that we might see how far we had fallen from the holiness of God, and repent; That we may all continue to turn to God to find our completeness; that we may all seek God’s glory and not cisterns of broken creation.

I have very dear friends I love here in Togo that were child brides, that participate in child labor practices, that have multiple wives, that have undergone female circumcision and would do the same to their daughters, and the list goes on. We openly talk about these issues and how, I believe, God speaks to those issues. They know what I believe in and love me as well. There is no hate crime going on here. We talk about our ways of life, in love, and hide nothing in regards to who or how we worship. It’s not my job to even change someone’s heart—only the Holy Spirit of God will choose to do that. 

Please pray for Togo as we here pray for the United States.  Pray that both nations could be known as Nations that seek the Glory of the Lord.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

From Death to Life

Ephesians 2:4-5
But God, being rich in mercy,
because of the great love with which he loved us,
even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive
together with Christ—by grace you have been saved

Practicing pediatrics in the US one can feel like we win all the time. Relatively few children die in the US and it’s a rarity and tragedy to find a mother who’s had to bury a child.  In Togo, it’s hard to find a mother who hasn’t buried a child, at least one.  In fact, many groups don’t give a name to their infants until the 8th day, or sometimes until the first month, to avoid giving a name to a child that won’t survive.

I’m not sure how many of you have seen a dead person in real life. Not at a funeral when the dead are made to look alive somehow, but someone in the rawness of death. When it takes place in a hospital, it is often not beautiful nor peaceful. There is an ugliness to death that makes the witnesses feel violated and stolen from.  After a short time, it is also obvious. There is no confusion whether a person is dead or not.

For there is nothing in common between the dead and living.

The Word of God often describes us as dead. I think it’s a misunderstanding of this death that leads us to believe that we are better than we are, or that Christ’s love and sacrifice for us is somehow not as awesome as it is.  We believe that this death He speaks of is actually more like a peaceful, sleeping child whose mother comes in at night to tuck her child’s swooping curls behind her ear, afraid to wake her.  This leads us to think, “of course God has great love towards us, who wouldn’t want to swoop up a sleeping child in their arms—especially God!”

But the death that God speaks of is nothing like this. The actual idea is that of being pulled up out of a grave, a grave that we’ve been in for our entire lives.  This is the comparison made when Christ looks upon us, loves us anyway, and delivers us—
a rotting, cold, lifeless corpse. And what corpse could bring itself back to life?

One of my jobs here in Togo is to fight against physical death. It’s a losing battle. Even if I win today, I will always lose in the end.  No one has ever defeated death—except one.  And Christ makes us alive.  To fight for physical life without fighting for spiritual life is like pulling a corpse out of the grave and placing him in a tomb.  That’s why we’re here—to share a love that brings people from death to life. Not to force or manipulate, but to wait for God to move, for the Lord to pull people out of the grave and praise Him for it.

Isaiah 25:8
He will swallow up death forever;
 and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces

PS: I appreciate everyone’s prayers for string of unfortunate events (broken computer, then phone, then computer, then internet, then a bout of malaria). If the Lord is trying to teach me something, I’m trying to listen. And if Satan is trying to discourage me, I’m not, which I’m sure is thanks to all of your prayers. This ministry could not continue without the sustaining prayers of all of you. I’m deeply grateful for all of you.