Friday, June 21, 2013

I looked up from my clipboard for the next patient. Skin and bones, she came to me coughing into the dishtowel around her neck. "Ako si Katie." I greeted her with a handshake and a smile. "How long have you been coughing?" I asked while rummaging through our bags for some masks during translation. Something about years. I showed her how to put a mask over her nose and mouth before proceeding. She had recently been diagnosed with tuberculosis by a local physician. She was receiving treatment, was distancing herself from her family, and was coming to us for vitamins. Our interview was brief, but difficult - the rapid-fire barrage of questions about history of illness and putting priority on something that distanced me from my patient. Once we got the preliminaries out of the way, we slowed way down.

We locked eyes, and I put my hand on her knee. "This is such a difficult disease, but I am so proud of you." I paused for translation. "You are doing all of the right things." Translation. "This disease is not your fault." Her tiny frame heaved with giant tears mid-translation as she let herself be hugged by this strange white woman, with insta-tears streaming down her own face. We prayed together.

She thought she came for vitamins. I thought she came so we could help her with access to healthcare for diagnosis and treatment of tuberculosis. But it was apparent she really came for an ounce of dignity, to be spoken a word of self-worth and affirmation, to have the powerful words spoken over her that she is precious in the eyes of her Maker.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


It has taught me patience. I'm not a particularly naturally patient person. I like things to be fast and awesome. In fact, I like to be fast and awesome myself. A fast learner, ever hoping to be efficient, a fast runner. 

Let's be honest about this: I'm only patient about running because I want to be fast. And the only way there is through long-suffering. Every step is important - the speed of that step - but the speed of that step only matters when it's coupled with a vast number of the same - taking step after step even after you stop being enamored with the wind on your cheeks and the downward slope of ease that faded into incline. You just keep taking steps even after you're done being impressed with how easy it is. The switch surprises you, from ease to disease - you realize you can't really breathe anymore. But it doesn't matter what you want, and you tell yourself it really will be over soon knowing all too well its truth and its lie. 

What is "soon" when you're in the moment of pain? 

It's faith. But you draw on experience. You remember the last time you ran, and more than that, you remember having run, having stepped through the moment of impasse that you now face. You remember that you forgot about the impasse this whole time - until now. Like a time-traveler's fragrance, the past's whiff floods in, and there you are again, as if for the first time. Stepping, stepping, stepping, forcing patience in the step. Grasping the invisible like the saints- you'll forget about this moment again, and it will be worth it.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

South Sudan Spotlight and Philippines Flash Forward

I'll tell you right from the beginning. The most amazing part of our trip to South Sudan last July was that, in a few short weeks, we could help in a lasting way. I honestly didn't expect that. I went in expecting to be changed more than anything else. I hoped to help, but I expected that I would be helped more as the little ones at Cornerstone Children's Home in Nimule, South Sudan stunned me. 

They did stun me. The joy, in spite of pasts riddled with tragedy and abandonment, was palpable in that whole place, from the youngest to the oldest, far exceeding that of those I daily encounter in the US who have in abundance more of everything. Their strength and hard work was also stunning, especially that of the women. Chores like cooking, cutting grass and fetching water are all done without the luxuries that I never before considered luxuries - lawn mower, electrically-powered stove, running water, washing machines, etc. At a recent women's conference, I noticed all of our American upper arms flapping as we praised God with arms lifted high. I thought of our South Sudanese friends, Lillian and Harriet, whose arms would have been lifted just as high that day in worship to Jesus, but waving with their hard-earned strong arms! 

But even more stunning than that was the black hole of need. While there, Thomas and I went on pharmacy runs and hauled children to and from the hospital or the clinic. There was so much to do on educating the staff about documentation of medications, organization of the clinic, not to mention addressing the environmental concerns I had for systems like handwashing before eating, safe cooking methods, etc. The need for the presence of a medical professional was obvious, but was it possible for Cornerstone to have such a thing?

I found my answer while volunteering at the Nimule Hospital in the maternity ward. I was greeted with nurses scrubbing the cement floors donning knee high rubber boots saying, "We clean on Fridays." Florence Nightingale would've had a hayday in that dimly lit, close-quartered (10+ women to a room), sepsis infused environment -- she and American lawyers. The staff asked me how I liked their hospital, but they weren't satisfied to know that I thought it was fine. They wanted to know how I liked it in comparison to American hospitals. How could I succinctly express to these workers the contrast? We know it well: a motorized vehicle is used solely for daily cleaning and shining of floors; the continual smell of disinfectant and common occurrence of blue sterile hats, boots, and gloves; faucets and flushable toilets in every private room; scan-trons for dispensing medications complete with computerized documentation at your fingertips; tube systems to deliver things throughout the huge hospitals without any leg-work; and an environment of catering to patient satisfaction. 

During my hours there, I made friends with a couple of the nurses and spoke to them about the concerns I had about the lack of a medical presence at Cornerstone. They said that starting wages for a nurse there could be about 500 Sudanese pounds a month, just over $100 per month! So we hired Daniel, a comprehensive nurse, who has two years of nurse's training in Uganda. His two years is really nothing like an American two years of nursing training. He can deliver babies, diagnose, and treat them... and their brothers, sisters, parents, and grandparents. This is the way in South Sudan; no medical knowledge is wasted. Since beginning full time work in September, he has helped our children so much that illnesses are coming up much less frequently. He transitioned to a part time role at the Children's Home and also works part time at Nimule Hospital, just a short walk from Cornerstone Children's Home. I am especially happy about this, because he will help them, and they will help him. In medicine, friends are important - they give insight in tough situations, and they facilitate coping. 

Our time in Nimule was a great first experience overseas. It taught us to value accumulation less and giving more. It taught us that our joy is in the Lord, and people who have less often find joy much more easily. It also taught us that our gifts are meant to be used by Jesus for great things. He is the One that works in us to do these things. It is only our job to obey. 

Flash Forward
Since moving to Kansas, we have become acquainted with a ministry called Trash Mountain Project (TMP). Around the world, many families put their hope in heaps of trash. The trash dump provides items for them to sell so they can feed their families. They live, work, and die in the trash dumps. The purpose of this ministry is community development - to come alongside already existing churches and give them tools for trash dump transformation. TMP builds schools, both primary and vocational, clinics, and even centers for the care of the elderly. In the Dominican Republic, TMP is planning to implement a hydroponics system that will provide fish and vegetation to these communities. The hydroponics system was recently described to me as an exit strategy - a way to get the people out of the trash dumps, and us out of the way for them to grow and live independently with dignity.

TMP recently put out Stay, a must see full length documentary about God's obvious calling to new sites in the Philippines. Please take a look here:

On Friday, Thomas and I will be a part of the first group trip TMP has taken to this same area from the documentary. Thomas will be working with the construction team, and I'll be heading up the clinic side of things. We'll be there for ten days, returning June 18th. On this trip, we've decided not to ask for help financially, but we do deeply desire prayer. We desire for you to be part of our mission as you go in prayer to the King on our behalf asking for big things. Specifically, that we would be an answer to the prayers of the people we are hoping to serve, that God would move mightily, healing and transforming many.