Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Lessons from Nepal: God is Sufficient

Faith is the virtue by which,
clinging-to the faithfulness of God,
we lean upon Him, so that we may
obtain what He gives to us.
- William Ames

The triage note handed to me by this beautiful 18 year old, first time mother-to-be read, “ten months pregnant.” Not a great start. As I began to examine her I first discovered that her blood pressure was elevated. My next finding was that her hands and feet had become swollen with water retention, medically known as edema. An ultra sound done by Dr. Joe disclosed that her placenta was not functioning at its maximum, most likely due to the fact that she was over-due. Most concerning of all was the fact that all of the previous findings contributed to an absence of amniotic fluid, leaving the baby’s umbilical cord vulnerable to being compressed which would cut off the baby's oxygen supply. Adding to the urgency of the situation was the fact that this sweet, young mamma-to-be was having no symptoms of labor.

In this small mountain clinic setting we did not have the medications nor facilities available to us to provide the care our patient so urgently needed. The closest facility that had the capability of meeting her needs was several hours down the mountain. So, we talked to the PUMA leaders to arrange transportation to the district hospital only to find that there were no vehicles available. With heavy hearts and at the peak heat of the day we sent our young patient down the mountain by foot.

As we prayed for safety for this mother and baby I began to feel first helpless and then angry. We came to Nepal to bring people hope and healing. This looked more like abandonment and fear.

“God, what are you doing? Please help us help her, please!”
“Yes, Lord.”
“Do you believe I am in control?”
“Well…yes…I do...”
“Then give her to me. She’s not yours, she’s Mine.”
“I know, Lord, but…”
“This is no different than giving me Mark, Jason, Peanut, yourself.”
“I know, Lord, but…”
“Am I sufficient to meet every need?”
“Yes, Lord, You are sufficient.”

We may not know until heaven what God did in that young lady’s life. But I do know that, once again, God was teaching me truths about Himself – about myself - through this. God is faithful and sufficient to meet all our needs. That is and always will be true whether I believe it or not. The crucial and intimately personal issue is this: do I believe Him and if I do, will I live it? When we weed through all the “stuff” I guess that’s the issue for us all.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Lessons from Nepal: A Vehicle for the Gospel

Fear defeats more people than any
other one thing in the world.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson

I want to shout it from the rooftops, or rather the mountaintops: medical clinics for the poor in underdeveloped and developing countries are a vehicle to proclaim the Gospel to the lost!

It was the third day of our clinic in the first Nepali mountain village we visited and we were told during our morning devotions that the people would most likely take advantage of the recent rain to plow and plant their fields. Unfortunately Nepal has been caught in the throes of a drought for some time now and the thunder storms we had been having each day provided the answer to the prayers of many. This would most likely mean that the number of patients at the final clinic day in this village would be down.

And indeed, we were able to see all of the 150 to 200 patients waiting to be seen by about 2:00pm, easily two hours earlier than the previous two days. But that day I personally had possibly the most poignant divine appointment of the two week mission.

The patients waited in line to be seen by a triage nurse who would get the appropriate vital signs and question the patient regarding their physical complaints. The nurse would then assign the patient to a specific practitioner. Our Ob/Gyn doctor, another obstetrical nurse, and I would see the women with "female complaints." Our GI doctor would see patients with stomach/intestinal complaints as well as some with generalized physical symptoms. Dr. Thapa, a Nepali doctor who volunteer two weeks of his time to help with our clinics, would see patients with symptoms of diseases that we don't treat often in the U.S. like leprosy and viruses peculiar to the region. He also saw most of the infants and children. And the Occupational Therapist on the team saw patients with muscular-skeletal pain and/or injury. The triage nurse wrote each patient's chief medical complaint on a triage form and sent the individual to the appropriate practitioner.

Relatively early in the day a rather young, nicely dressed woman handed me her triage paper. On it were notations of a few superficial complaints, nothing that alerted me to any significant medical problems. But then I read, "cannot sleep." Considering the fact that the team was sleeping in sleeping bags on cement floors with no electricity and an outhouse about 50 yards away which was only a hole in the ground I was somewhat unsympathetic! In spite of trying to maintain a professional demeanor, I smiled a little and thought, "Join the club, honey!" But my grin disappeared when I read the final comment on her note, "is fearful."

My first thought was that the nurses doing triage are always swamped with long lines of people waiting to be seen, so they try to get to the major symptoms as quickly as possible. Part of the role of the specialized doctors and nurses was to question the patient more in depth about their complaints. If this poor woman was so plagued by fear that it was one of the first things she communicated to the triage nurse, this was neither a laughing nor small matter.

After quickly addressing the more minor complaints I said to the patient, through my interpreter, Gabi, "This says that you are having trouble sleeping at night."
Her response was, "Yes, I have many thoughts that go around and around in my head and they will not allow me to sleep."
"Do these thoughts make you afraid?"
"What are you afraid of?"
"Many things. I am afraid for my children."
"Are you afraid of death?"
"Have you ever heard about Jesus?"
"He can calm your fears and bring you peace. Would you like to get to know Him?"

My spirit leaped within me! Where are our pastors? Where are our spiritual counselors? This is much too important to speak through translator, even a good one like Gabi. This woman needs to speak to someone who knows her culture and language intimately. I need help here!

I told this gentle woman that I was going to take her to someone who would introduce her to Jesus. And with my arm around her shoulder I led her out the door to a dedicated, Godly man who has been on the PUMA staff in Nepal for several years. After explaining the situation to Phillip he tenderly walked Sipa to the shade of a nearby tree and there she met Jesus!

Later that day Phillip reported to the team that Sipa accepted Jesus as her Savior and went home with a Nepalese Bible. She told Phillip that she could be in danger for leaving her Hindu religion. He suggested that she privately read her Bible and pray for her family members that they would come to know the True and Living God. Our team is praying for dear Sipa and her family that some day we will see them all in heaven.

I want to shout it from the mountaintops!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Nepal: Re-direction and re-focusing

It takes a lot of courage to show your dreams to someone else.

-Erma Bombeck

I firmly believe that participating in a short term mission is much more about what God wants to do in the "server's" heart than those who are served. Of course we desire to be God's hands and feet to the poor, sick, and lost but it is my experience that almost universally team members are surprised by the ministry done in their own hearts when all is said and done.

One of my personal prayers for this mission was that I would be able to observe and learn from the team and PUMA ministry leaders. The time is coming soon when I will be leading a short term mission team. That is a daunting responsibility that I know I will only be able to do with the help of the Holy Spirit but I also know that I must do what I can to prepare for the task at hand. In 2 Timothy 2:15 Paul admonishes us to, "Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed." Paul was speaking specifically of studying God's Word but I believe that his words can and should be applied to any calling that God puts on our lives. So, right from the first team meeting back in October I have been in "gleaning mode."

And did I glean! However it is often the case that when I set myself to the task of learning I find that the knowledge revealed to me is quite unexpected and Nepal was no exception. I was seeking leadership skills and I learned about a servant's heart. Toward the end of the trip I learned about accepting the service of others gracefully. I desired to become a better leader and discovered how to become a better follower. I wanted to know how to conduct effective medical camps and realized that every one of the approximately 1500 patients we treated will some day die - every one! My passion to make a difference for God's Kingdom grew exponentially while my focus on medical camps diminished somewhat.

Of course bringing medical care to the poor and sick is important but it falls short of meeting the need if we fail to offer the spiritual healing all mankind require. This lesson was driven home to me with the force of a blow to my head with a sledge hammer when a woman came to us with a complaint of a "mass" on her breast. The examination revealed that the woman had inflammatory breast cancer, one of the most aggressive forms of this disease. Of course, we were not equipped in our little mountain medical clinic to address such a critical problem and our only recourse was to encourage this dear woman to go the closest district hospital at the bottom of the mountain. My heart was heavy as the disappointed patient slowly walked away. How can we just do nothing? Hey,wait a minute, we don't just have medicine, we have Jesus!

Our translator ran out the door and called after the woman, urging her to please come back. For quite some time Dr. Joe, the American Ob/Gyn doctor on our team, talked to this sweet woman through our young interpreter, introducing her to the Great Physician. In the end she was "almost persuaded," but the seed was planted and we will continue to pray that the Holy Spirit will "water" it and bring her to Himself while she still has breath.

The obvious question that must be answered as a result of all this learning is how does it impact Touching Lives? That's where the re-direction comes in! God is closing some doors and opening others with a renewed focus on medical clinics as a vehicle to proclaim the Gospel. This has been a burden on my heart for quite a while, now I am finally in position to have God show me how, where and when to carry out this ministry.

PUMA has been doing that kind of ministry beautifully for 10 years and the fruit of changed lives is blossoming. Seeing that first hand makes even whispering the calling that God has put on our hearts an intimidating thought. But my mantra throughout our two week mission became and remains, "not by might, nor by power, but by your Spirit!"

In God's perfect timing there will be more to come!