Posted in Life, Ministry

I think you should go


As my wife prepares to lead another mercy medical team to Kenya in November, recent events have given us cause to reflect on the risks involved with her return to that country. Since her first trip there in July, a very carefully planned terrorist attack on the West Gate shopping mall in Nairobi has created concerns about her returning to that country. More than a few family members and friends have discouraged her from going. The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod leadership is in a wait and see mode until later in October. Our missionary friends on the ground in Kenya are safe, cautious and encouraging so far. And her husband? Well, here's why I am encouraging her to go as planned.

First, staying home is not necessarily a safer option. With recent shootings at the Washington Navy Yard and Newtown, CT and the bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, there have been more problems at home than abroad. Those headlines don't include the narrow misses, planned attacks that were averted by authorities. Those dangers are an ever-present reality in our world, in both cities and rural towns.

Second, travel security will be on higher alert now than before. You will see it everywhere in Nairobi. Plus, once you fly in, you will only be there for a short time before you head out to a rural village in the west. Missionaries and church leaders are already planning for your safety.

Third, Jesus told us not to be afraid of “those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both body and soul in hell” (Matthew 10:28). If you feel called by God to do this kind of work, his commission must carry the most weight in any decision to go or not.

The real danger? It doesn't come from a flesh and blood enemy. We're in a spiritual battle, and if the enemy can convince us to stay home rather than go to the ends of the earth, then we lose, and so do so many others who desperately need some good news — the good news — that the church brings into the world.

And, if it's your time, wouldn't you rather go out making a difference instead of just sitting around the house watching reruns? Maybe you call that foolish. Maybe you call it faith. But while some might be afraid of dying, maybe we need to more afraid of never really living.

Posted in Life, Ministry

Haiti (part 3) the outhouse

The outhouse: from a distance

Each day in Haiti was pretty much the same for us. Wait for rides, people waiting for the clinic, long, hot, dry days. But each day there was also a new adventure.

Like the outhouse. Up the hill from the church it didn’t look (or smell) too badly from a distance. But up close — watch out! Unable to last all afternoon, Gail decided to brave it, and could barely get in the door. Lisa gave it a shot on Thursday and it took just about everything she had to endure the “squat pot.” And that was before Quinton told us that he had gone up with a flashlight to look in the hole, and saw tarantulas crawling around in there. After that,

The outhouse: up close and personal

many decided it would be better to use the bushes around back. Safer — unless, like Jesse, you forgot to check for cactus.

The first few days, we got no lunch and there were few if any drinks brought in for us. Finally, we worked that out, but then faced another dilemma. How do you drink a soda or eat a sandwich in front of all these people who have so little to eat? Most of us felt like we had to take a swig or bite in hiding, because we couldn’t bear to do it with all those eyes on us.

I asked one of our translators, Jean Enock, what he and his family usually ate when not helping out at the clinic. He told us he usually ate one meal a day, typically some rice and beans. That’s all. Known as Enock, he was in Port-au-Prince during the earthquake. He was taking a bath in his home when the tremors started, and he jumped out of the tub and ran outside naked before he pulled on a pair of shorts. I can’t imagine what kind of terror and panic there must have been that day. But that’s not the worst. Later that day, a wall fell on his father, killing him. Enock now helps care for his family, some of whom live in a tent next to the rubble that used to be his house. He was one of the most pleasant, helpful, thoughtful and easy-going people we met there.

When we were at the hotel, we were introduced to another unexpected bathroom custom. Even though we had flush toilets, you weren’t supposed to flush your toilet paper. You put it into a can next to the toilet, and they would empty it each day. If you remembered to give them your key in the morning so the housekeepers could get in there.

On Thursday, we discovered that the fish at the restaurant, red snapper, was pretty good and a good supper option. That day, a translator caught up with me and said a mother and her son wanted prayer. I later learned that the boy may have had leprosy, an ailment even the doctor hadn’t seen before. Another lady told her translator she wanted private confession, but then backed out before I had a chance to speak with her. Friday was the day we gave out lots and lots of toys, so much so that it looked like a carnival, everyone walking around holding large stuffed animals.

Posted in Life, Ministry

Haiti (part 2): opening the clinic

My wife, Lisa, with our friend Lophant

I forgot to mention in my last post that one of the people were glad to see at the airport in Port-au-Prince was our friend Lophant, who runs a children’s feeding program at numerous sites in Haiti. My wife, Lisa, met him on her first trip to Haiti last March, and our church has been receiving and wiring financial donations to Lophant to keep that program (and the kids) alive. Our visit was short, but we did leave him with a duffle bag full of clothes and other things for his family.

Back to our story. Having arrived at the hotel in Gonaives Monday afternoon, we hung out a little, had supper at the restaurant, did some devotions, and headed off to bed. The restaurant fare was limited: beef, goat, or chicken that first night, all of which was cooked very well. Every meal came with friend potatoes, fried plantain, a big plate of rice and some kind of beans, and a big bowl of sauce, which was actually pretty good. We drank a lot of beer while we were there, mostly Prestige, a surprisingly good Haitian brew.

On Tuesday morning (Oct 19), we were up early for breakfast, where the choice was either an omelet or spaghetti. Most of our Haitian friends eat their breakfast spaghetti with ketchup. We opted for omelets most of the time, and usually had avocados and bananas them.

Anxious to get started, we assembled at 8:30 to wait for our rides to arrive. At 9:30 we were still waiting for our rides to arrive. Thus we had our first lesson in “Haiti time.” Most things happened on a very relaxed schedule, so that took a bit of getting used to. Finally about 10 our rides arrived.

First stop: the guest house, where some medications had been stored. It turns out the guest house was under some major renovations, so we would be at the hotel for our entire time in Gonaives. The medical folks sorted through many boxes and totes full of medications, and packed up everything we thought we could use. Then we sat down and waited for our rides to return.

The clinic

We finally got to the site of the clinic somewhere around 11:15, and unloaded our supplies. The “clinic” was a 40 foot shipping container that had been compartmentalized into three exam rooms and a pharmacy room. A generator supplied enough power for lights and fan, but no AC. The container was on a concrete slab next to an open air Lutheran Church built into the hillside. All set up, we saw the first patients about 11:45. The team worked till 6 pm, seeing 86 patients that first day.

Consider this process the next time you have to wait for the doctor. When someone arrived, they went into a thatched hut, received a number and waited. When their number was called they went into the church, signed in, and took a seat to wait. Next, they were seen by triage, and had vitals taken, and sent to another area to wait. When it was their turn, they were sent to a tent outside the container to wait to see the doctor or NP. After they saw the provider, they waited in the tent for medication. I think it took some people 4-5 hours to get all the way through the line. But I heard little complaint. They were very patient.

Feeling sorry for the waiters, I though, “Hey, I can be helpful.” I gave some blow up beach balls to some off the kids so they could play while waiting. The balls disappeared, but the kids returned with friends, looking for more balls. From that moment on, there was always a kid calling to me, “You!” and motioning his desire for a ball or bubbles or a toothbrush or whatever someone would give them. I wasn’t nearly as helpful as I thought I would be.

My role was chaplain for the group, as well as being available to talk to and pray with some of  the people who came to the clinic. I did very little of the latter and not a whole lot of the former. I was more of a gopher, usher and utility infielder during the week. I did get to help our pharmacist Jesse through one brief emotional moment. And I did a lot of watching, hoping to get some insight into what it was like to live here.

Posted in Life

My wife’s going to Haiti (part 1)

Why not a journal of my wife’s upcoming trip to Haiti through the eyes of us who will say goodbye in just a few days and anxiously await her return from this medical mission trip? Lisa is going with 16 other doctors, nurses, practitioners, and pastors to work in a Port-au-Prince hospital and clinic with LCMS World Relief. Her nurse practitioner skills, honed over the past year in an urgent care office, will be very helpful to the many Haitians still in need of medical care after the January 12 earthquake. It’s hard to believe it’s been two months already.

After learning that she had been selected for this trip, the last two weeks have been a whirlwind of getting things together to go. From a few shots at the health department to some medical things to take along, the challenge has been to not take too much. All you’ve got is two small carry-ons for your own stuff. The big check-through suitcase is for medical supplies.

An exciting opportunity? Absolutely. Frightening? Oh, a little, especially when you starting reading about tropical diseases, looking at pictures of insects, and checking out the blogs of those who are there. The trip begins on Thursday with a drive to Miami, where she’ll meet the team.

It is so cool that she gets to go and do this. And it is equally cool that our church has gotten into sending people on trips like this with both financial and prayer support. It adds a whole new dimension to what we do.