A Starry African Night

The cottage where we are staying is about 200 yards from the hospital.  The walk ‘home’ is winding, parts are rocky and even though there are a few lights along the way, it is very dark at night.  Last week I was walking home in the middle of the night.  It was cool, almost cold and perfectly clear, not a cloud in the sky.  There were more stars than I have ever seen blanketing the African sky.  The moon was about a quarter and two stars (maybe planets) looked so big that I felt I could almost reach out and touch them.

I had just done a complex operation on a small baby.  The case had gone well.  The baby did fine.  And as I reflected on that little patient, I was so grateful that over 20 years ago I had spent 6 months of my life at Arkansas Children’s Hospital.  I was so thankful that Dr. Steve Golladay had shown me how to diagnose children with surgical problems, so grateful that we spent countless hours in the operating room together.  First he showed me how to do the operation (that I had just done), then he patiently watched as I did the surgery, then he trusted me to do the operation alone. And now over 20 years later, in a remote part of Africa, that investment has made a difference in a small child’s life.

And then my mind was flooded with all the people who have taught me so much—about surgery, about life, about what it means to be a follower of Jesus.  I’m so grateful to Dr. Everett Tucker and Dr. Hugh Burnett—my partners for many years in Little Rock.  Countless times I’ve been doing cases this month, and small technical “gems” that they gave me many years ago has made all the difference in a case going well.  Yesterday I was dissecting the superior mesenteric vein off the backside of the pancreas (a difficult and dangerous part of the operation) and their wisdom and instruction guided me the whole way.  I’m so thankful to Dr. Kent Westbrook who instilled in me principles of surgery that are still a part of what I do everyday here in Africa.

I’m so grateful for my dad who planted the seed of missions inside of me as a small boy.  His example and his passion to ‘reach the unreached and tell the untold’ is still a big part of who I am today.  I’m thankful to my mom who taught me, by her example, the love and compassion of Jesus toward people who are in need.  I’m grateful to my pastors and friends in Little Rock who reached out to me when I was hurting.  They taught me to run TO the wounded, not away from them.  I’m grateful to my brother who taught me the power of my thoughts, and my sisters and sister-in-law who show me how to passionately follow Jesus.  And I’m grateful to Duncan and David and Wendell and Simone and JT and MA (I could go on and on) who have demonstrated to me what it is like to walk side-by-side as friends for the long haul.  And grateful for Jenn, words aren’t adequate to convey what an impact you have made in my life.

I’m so glad that I had the opportunity to operate on that small child last week and I’m so glad that during a walk home under a starry African sky God reminded me to be thankful for the people who have made an investment and had a lasting impact on my life.

From Africa with love,

Living the dream

It gets cool in the evening here and every cottage has a fireplace.  We made a fire in our fireplace last night and the embers are still burning as I warm my feet, drink my coffee and write this journal entry.  It’s still long before daylight on Tuesday morning.  I was awakened this morning by a symphony of the songs and calls of what sounded like hundreds of different birds.  All I could think of is this:  “If He cares for the birds of the field…”  What a great reminder that God is in control and that He cares for us and He will take care of us and He will provide whatever we need for this day.  What a great way to start the day.

On a light note, as I was doing my rounds yesterday I began to think of the different expressions the people here in Kenya use that are different than what we use.  Let me give you some examples:  we say “flashlight”, they say “torch”;  we say “surgical tape”, they say “strapping”;  we say “E.R.”, they say “casualty”, we say “O.R.”, they say “theatre”, we say “the tire blew out”, they say, “the tyre exploded”.  One of my favorites, though, is when they have to excuse themselves to go and take care of an urgent need.  We would say “I have to go…” they say, “Please, let me first rush…”

I thought I would give you some snapshots of my busy weekend on call.  Over a week ago I operated on a man who was stabbed in the abdomen and had significant and life-threatening injuries.  He was intoxicated when He came in, so it was difficult to talk to him.  Fortunately (God’s mercy), he has done well and I discharged him from the hospital yesterday.  As I was reading through his chart I came upon this entry from one of the chaplains here at the hospital (every patient is seen by and prayed for by a chaplain every day).  The entry read,  “The patient gave his life to Christ Jesus today.  I led him in confession prayer hoping that God will sustain his salvation.”  As I reflected on this man’s life—a life threatening injury brought him four hours by car to a hospital where a missionary team helped save his life—so He could be introduced to our Savior.  I believe we will spend eternity with this man because of the ministry of this mission outpost.  When it’s all said and done at the end of the day, saving a physical life is important, but introducing people to eternal life is ultimately the most important thing.  What a privilege to be a part of both.

The “Casualty” was very busy this weekend.  The usual variety of things we see…broken bones, lacerations, infections, trauma from road accidents and the conflict that still sporadically happens here.  The emergency room is tiny and cramped.  There are probably 10 gurneys packed into this minute little room.  When I walked in Saturday night, there were people everywhere—every bed was occupied by a very sick patient, family members in all varieties of colored dress huddled by their bedside, doctors and nurses rushed from one bed to the next.  X rays were being taken; lab was being drawn—all in a space of just a few dozen square feet.  The scene was vivid, the smells were overwhelming, and the atmosphere was filled with urgency and uncertainty.  And yet when I walked in to this room…I had this overwhelming sense of being “at home”, content, alive, called…to what I was doing in that moment.    Somehow (for me), when I am immersed in a sea of hurting people it serves as a reminder that:  helping hurting people is the closest thing to God’s heart.  He cares (individually) about every one of the people in casualty, He cares about their family, He cares about their physical bodies, and He cares about their eternal destiny.  What an enormous privilege to be a small part of ministering to these hurting people.

On a different note, it’s been a long time since I haven’t had a car or haven’t been able to travel.  Because of the conflict in this region, we are not allowed to get out on the road at all.  So, to avoid going “stir crazy”, we have been taking walks on little foot paths over the hills to the different villages.  It is so interesting to see the women come to the mill to have their maize ground into meal and then load the meal on to their heads, and with a child strapped on their backs, make their way up and down these hills!  Most of the children run up and down the rocky paths without shoes!  Donkeys pass us loaded with cargo.  Children shepherd sheep and herd small herds of dairy cattle and goats.  Just about every where we go, especially in the evenings, the people carry small jugs or bottles and go to a local vendor who supplies them with a few cups of milk.  Since most don’t have refrigeration, it’s just enough for their evening meal or perhaps breakfast or tea…and then they do the same the next day.  The majority of the villages don’t have electricity, so they cook on tiny wood burning stoves.  When they are cooking at night, you can smell the onions and meat grilling on the stoves.  It smells just like the fajitas at Pappasito’s (a local restaurant in Houston)!  Occasionally, we will walk to a market and have a soft drink—served warm and with a straw!  The other day, one of the doctors gave me a cold Doctor Pepper—I thought I had died and gone to heaven!!

I’ll close with a simple thought.  When I first came to Africa for a summer missions trip after my sophomore year of college—I had this overwhelming impression that one day I would be back as a medical missionary somewhere in Africa.  I’m now 52 years old…and I’m living the dream that God placed in my heart over 30 years ago.  I’m a living example that…you can trust God with your dreams.  So, if you happen to be reading this blog entry…and you question in your mind that maybe the dreams that God put in your heart will never come to past—I want to encourage you, you can trust God with your dreams.  Seek Him first, delight in Him, trust Him…He won’t disappoint you.  “Now to Him who is able to do exceeding, abundantly above all you can ask or think, according to His power at work within you.”

Thank you Lakewood and thank you to our other friends…we can “feel” your prayers and your support.  Have a great week!

From Africa with love,

Processing the day

It is Wednesday late day; we are nine hours ahead of Texas.  It is very windy and looks as though it is about to rain.  This is the first moment I have had to sit all day and I have found that writing you is very therapeutic for my soul.  We see, hear and feel so much in a day that it is nice to process it all by putting the emotions and experiences into words.

Last night Enoch, Rachael and Elijah’s son (Mosop Orphanage), came to visit Dr. Chuck and Amy.  He brought a gourd full of a special drink in Kenya called Morsic made from warm milk which curdles mixed with burned bark of the Wattle tree. Yummy!  His parents sent it to thank us for coming to play with the children at the orphanage awhile back.  Amy called me and said we should go up to the nursery (which is overflowing right now) and share it with the moms.  So the two of us went up at the 6:00 nursing time and took small disposable cups.  The women were so grateful and loved it- apparently this is a real treat for them, a delicacy.

Because I consider myself adventurous, I went with every intention of partaking in the morsic…………….however, after serving this charcoal/buttermilk type drink to about 25 moms nursing their newborn babies in a very warm, small space…………. I changed my mind.  Thankfully it was not perceived as an insult since the women did not originally give it to us.  Whew!

I took the opportunity to take some nursery pictures.  All the incubators have been handmade and as you can see the room is wall to wall with them along with infant beds.

Today the girls made cookies again but this was a not-for-profit project =). This time we took them to administration and thanked everyone there for all their hard work.  They are a little short-handed and one of the missionaries mentioned it might be good to encourage the people in that department.

Afterward we took stickers and coloring sheets to the pediatric ward.  Jackson loved this!  He and his friend Luke blew bubbles and we all sang a few songs.  Jackson entertained the children with his outgoing personality and the Kenyan moms were giggling at his choreography to our singing.

The bottom has fallen out of the sky and the rain has poured down for about an hour.  It has dropped quite a few degrees and is very chilly, but a new wonderful, after the rain smell fills the air.  The girls just dashed across the field from playing football and are completely soaked.

It has been a busy and fulfilling day.  I am thankful for even the small opportunities we have been afforded to share His love.



Last week was a really long week full of ups and downs.  If I could describe the feeling of the situation here it would be unpredictability, the feeling that you do not know what tomorrow will bring.  Things are still safe here on the compound but the violence inched its way closer with fighting and violence within every city within 10 miles of here.
We thank God that he surrounds us like a fortress and we remain safe in His care.

This week one of the long-term physicians decided to return to the states with his family.  His wife is close to the end of her pregnancy and they feel, for their safety and peace of mind, they should leave now while the window is open and travel is allowed.  The staff also lost one of their beloved staff members and leaders in the church when he and his family received death threats and had to leave town this weekend.  These losses are huge to what is a small, loving, tight knit family here at the hospital.  Please continue to pray for unity at the hospital and peace as each family makes decisions and goes through change related to the situation here.

For Jackson this weekend was boy heaven.  Mr. John, from hospital administration, took a group of kids to explore the bat caves by the river.  Jackson has counted the days until this adventure.  On Saturday afternoon a group of men and children went spelunking!  Paul said that Jackson and his friend Luke were the first ones in the cave with the bats flying inches over their heads and were not deterred!

Church was standing room only this Sunday.  Dr. Russ preached a message based on Hebrews 11:13-16.  He reminded us that we are foreigners, pilgrims and strangers here and that our citizenship is in another country- a heavenly one.  This was a timely reminder for all of us that as the body of Christ we should see no skin color, no tribal affiliation or nationality.

Even in Kenya Super Bowl Sunday is a huge event, it takes a little more effort but die hard football fans can make it happen! Last night at 2:00 a.m. the alarm went off, Paul and the girls woke up and walked up the hill to Dr. Russ’ house to join other missionary families to watch the Super Bowl.  They ‘rented’ a satellite from town and then rigged a projector to watch the game on the wall.  They made popcorn and sweets and completely forgot it was the middle of the night.  What a memory!

There is a bridge over the river that many villagers have to cross to come to the hospital and over to this part of the mountain.  Everyone here calls it the “Rickety Bridge”.  We walked this Sunday afternoon to see it for the first time.  It basically is a bunch of stick nailed together and put over the top of the river to make a bridge.  I was very nervous watching my family cross it yet hundreds of children have to cross this bridge to get to school everyday.  While we were there many women crossed over with goods on their heads and children on their back.

One of the long term missionary physicians, Dr. Ben, has a work team from his home church planning to come in March who is volunteering to replace the bridge with a sturdy, metal one over beams that are anchored and cemented below the water.  Dr. Ben’s dad will be heading up this work team and we pray that they will still be able to come and do something so simple but impactful that will make things easier and safer for the people in this area.

Hope you are enjoying the photos and can piece them together with our blog entries.  Continue to pray for peace in Kenya.