Haiti (final entry: returning home)

After a very early wake-up call, we assembled for a quick 4:30 am breakfast, loaded up the trucks and headed to the Port-au-Prince airport. Though it was barely dawn, the roads were already lined with people preparing for market day.

The airport is always part of the adventure. As soon as you step out of the van, you are surrounded by vendors and others eager to help you with your bags. This is when you get a lot of practice saying, “No, merci.”

Inside, long lines snake through the room where you wait to check in. Some check-in kiosks are working. Most are not. Finally we all get checked in and our bags dropped and its off to immigration, security, customs and a second security check. But this was a good day. It only took an hour to complete the process and we could sit down to wait for our plane to board. There are some nice little restaurants in the airport with some very good coffee, sandwiches and pastries.

The flight was uneventful, and immigration and customs on the US side went quickly. But that’s when you have to say goodbye to everyone heading off to different parts of the country. Facebook means we won’t lose touch. In fact, we’ll get to know each other better as we keep in touch and plan our next getaway to Haiti.

We still had a long drive home from Fort Lauderdale to Palm Coast, giving us lots of time to reflect upon our trip and short-term missions in general. More on that soon.

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Our team: Tamara, Cassie, Lisa, Doris, Nancy, Megan, Helen, me, Elizabeth, Jesse, Oz, Brenda and Quinton

 

Haiti (April 14: final clinic day)

Another long bumpy ride took us back to Thomonde for our last clinic day. I talked about Jesus and the woman at the well to start things off today.

I was honored to do another baptism today for a man nearly at the end of his life. The tap on my shoulder late in the morning took me to a gentleman failing quickly due to old age. A celebration broke out as he confessed his faith and I spilled three handfuls of water from a small bag over Jean’s head. God just keeps adding to the number of those being saved! What a privilege to be the first to pray with a new brother in Christ!

  
The local church will send people to his home to provide care in his last days. 

I had two encounters with a woman who came through my little prayer station. Pregnant, with a history of miscarriage and a tumor on her neck, she neede extra encouragement today. We surrounded her in prayer for some of God’s joy and peace in her life.

A number of people asked for prayers of “deliverance” today. They offered no other details, and I couldn’t help but wonder if they had at some point connected with voodoo. Voodoo is still a part of the fabric of life here. In any event, I offered a number of prayers for the freedom Christ brings.

We saw people for about three hours today before packing up to return home before the evening rains. I don’t know that we saw many really sick in the mountains this week. Beyond a few aches and pains, most were fairly strong and healthy. 

Haiti (day 1: arrival)

  After an uneventful (but very early) flight to Port-au-Prince, we got a ride to Walls Guest House, our home base for the week. After a quick unload of twenty -something fifty pound duffles full of supplies, we rode over to Good Shepherd Lutheran Church to attend the Saturday program, which members from our church support.

It was so good to see our friend Lophane, Pastor Josie and his wife Elise, and listen to the voices of over 160 children in attendance. We also helped serve lunch, then we headed out to a small pizza/burger place for lunch. 

Back at Walls, we were able to catch a nap and relax a little. After a supper of noodles and sauce, we met to go over our plan for the week.

Our team comes from all over the U. S. from teens to retired, some medical providers, some not. Some wide-eyed first timers in Haiti; others have been here eight times or more. 

When we stepped out of the airport today, Lisa and I both thought, “This feels like Haiti.” What’s that mean? It’s hard to say. The air is filled with a smoky, musty, diesel-exhaust smell, Bougenvillas in full bloom are tumbling over every wall and fence, and the ever present sound of car horns fills the air. It’s been five years since my last trip, but it feels familiar. 

The streets are lined with a strange mix of new construction, buildings in disrepair and make shift home in every nook and cranny. We were told that  ecause of inflation, things are actually worse here. Last year’s twenty-dollar bag of rice for the Saturday program now costs $35. 

Church tomorrow, then we sort and organize all our supplies for Monday’s clinic.

Haiti (prequel)

We are headed out to Haiti tomorrow morning with a Mission:Haiti team to a small community not too far from Port-au-Prince called Bien Amie. Google Maps and Earth doesn’t show much out there. Helen, our trip leader, reports that no mission teams have yet been to this area. This will be their first exposure to the medical care and education we can bring to them. Bien Amie 1

It’s been five years since my last trip to Haiti. Where did that time go? The last time we took a group from our church and did a lot of work with Lutheran Schools in the Port-au-Prince area. It will be interesting to see what has been repaired and rebuilt since my last time there and since the earthquake six year ago.

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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.

Kenya (July 20 at Mountain Rock Safari Camp, Kenya)

We said our goodbyes and left Kisii about 9:30 am, driving as far as Norok, where we met our safari guides/drivers. They then took us to the safari camp, about a two hour drive, mostly off road.

It was much different than what we expected. We are sleeping in permanent tents on concrete slabs, each with a regular bathroom attached. These are the upgraded accommodations. There are other tents on the ground with out door bathrooms, and still other tent sites. Not fancy, but softer beds, better showers, and better food than the hotel in Kisii.

We've already seen some animals on the way here: gazelle, zebras, giraffes, wildebeests, and cebus. This part of Africa looks like what you would expect. Dry, expansive plains, Masai huts here and there, acacia trees and mountains off in the distance.

Supper was beef stew, mashed potatoes, green beans and carrots, pasta, cabbage and fruit. The fruit wasn't as good as Kisii, but there's hardly any agriculture where we are. Oh, and most importantly, half liter bottles of Tusker beer, which tasted great.

Rule number one here: zip up your tent. We already saw monkeys stealing stuff from a tent that someone hadn't zipped up all the way.

We are out of here bright and early tomorrow morning for an all day outing. Others we talked to today said they saw a herd of over 80 elephants and countless wildebeest, which are running right now.

 

Kenya (July 19 in Kisii)

The day started in an unusual way, to the sound of someone power washing the outside walls and the noisy talk and clattering tubs of the laundry people, all about 5:30 am. When we went down to the dining room, it was dark, and no one was around. I guess the staff was pretty tired this morning, too. Our team was dragging.

It was a pleasant ride to the church because the road had been graded. The people waiting with numbers from last night were orderly, at least to start. I could tell we were in trouble, though. Even though we worked hard to cap today's number, there were just too many there already. And people started calling in favors. The bishop's friends from Tanzania. Students from the boarding school next door. A mother with a sick child. And of course, all of them are “not well.”

Forgive my cynicism, but most of the people were perfectly fine, suffering a few aches and pains that I would consider normal. But because white American “doctors” had come, everyone was ill and needed to see them. So much so that they started arriving at 5 am to get in line.

The people in line quickly devised ways to hack the system. Single adults from the day before suddenly had four children in tow. Others forged numbers to try and get a place in line. A promise of only ten students grew to sixteen. Yes, my compassion lagged and my annoyance grew.

Members of the team had brought toothbrushes and toothpaste, with the hopes of doing a little dental education. Didn't happen. As the day drew to a close, I decided to just give them away to those watching. The first batch I gave out went fine. The second bag of toothbrushes was torn from my hand as a mob literally fought to get their hands on them. I doubt if some even knew what they were grabbing. The dental clinic was over. No way I was going back in there.

We got to see some ver interesting conditions again today. I prayed with several moms whose children were very, very sick. I wish we could have filtered out the ” not feeling well” people to spend time with those who really needed some extraordinary care. But how do you do that?

At the end of the day, we saw those from the church who had helped us during the week, so we didn't get done and packed up till nearly 7 pm. After supper, we saw the hotel staff before we finally called the clinic “closed.”

Tomorrow we head to Nairobi, and some of us will split off for a safari, while a few head home. Time to relax a little now and decompress.

 

Kenya (July 18 in Kisii)

Yet another clinic day. We saw another 200 people. As we arrived, a huge mob of people was pressing against the front gates of the church. More than a few Kenyans had to do some yelling restore order and get people in line.

Once that was over, the day went smoothly. We saw a person with a traumatic amputation of a finger, a man with elephantiasis, a four year old who only weighed 14 pounds and had to be taken to the hospital, and a whole boatload of people with joint pain, stomach aches and headaches. The usually menu of complaints for a third world community.

For me it was a day of compassion fatigue, that is, when you feel more annoys than caring. It comes mostly from seeing an increase in people taking advantage of us and our resources. It's hard to say no to so many who feel like they and they family and friends must be seen without waiting in line, from the cook to the bishop. But it's necessary.

Lunch was just some banana potato soup and avocado. Supper included some really good fish along with the usual ungala, greens and rice.

We tried to limit our visits for tomorrow, but must now also see our support staff and the hotel staff. Tomorrow could be a long day.

 

Kenya (July 17 in Kisii)

Day three of the clinic was a lot like day two, except for the mob scene at registration. Pushing, shoving, yelling and complete chaos made it impossible to sign people in, delaying the start of the clinical day about 45 minutes. The local leaders had to kick everyone out of the church and start all over again. Hopefully we can avoid this scene tomorrow.

Kim got all of her testing done and started some needed medications, back at her triage desk by noon. We finally got our missing bag of supplies, but we suspect that someone took the batteries out of it. I helped a little in the pharmacy, didn't have a chance to play with the kids, and preached to a group of people outside the church who wouldn't be seen today.

Many church leaders come to me asking for favors. I have to consistently say no, and offer instead to just pray with them. Each has come a long way, is very ill, and needs to be seen immediately (just like everyone else). That's a tough thing to do.

Meals today included the usual eggs for breakfast, rice, eggs, ugala and peas for lunch, and chicken, greens and rice for supper. It's getting predictable. But it's good and very filling.

So today was our frustrating day – even though we saw 245, more than Tuesday. Tomorrow will be different yet, I am sure.