A Very Special Wednesday

Not long after we arrived here at Tenwek, my girls asked me if it would be possible for them to be baptized just below the waterfall in the river not far from the hospital.  I asked them to think about it for a few days before we made our final decision.  About a week ago, all three sat me down and told me they had made up their mind and wanted me to baptize them in water before we left Africa.

So last Wednesday, we made our way 15 minutes down the rocky path that leads to the river.  A few of our friends came with us making the moment even more special by their presence.  When we arrived, I talked about how proud Jenn and I are of each of the girls for their decision to make Jesus the Lord and Savior of their lives.  Dr. Russ explained how baptism represents the fact that we are cleansed from our sins by the sacrifice of Jesus and that when we are baptized, we leave our “old life” in the water and we are raised to a “new life” in Jesus.  We then had a prayer, and the four of us climbed into the cold water as mom and Jack watched and took pictures from the bank.

My usual routine when I baptize someone is to call the person by name and then say, “My brother/sister in Christ, because of your profession of faith in the Lord Jesus, I baptize you in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit”.  I “held it together” until I called each of my daughters “my sister in Christ”.  I cried my own river of tears as I realized that my children are not only a part of MY family, but because they trust Jesus as their Savior, they are a part of THE family of God.  What a joy it will be for Jenn and I to spend all of eternity in heaven with our children.

As I baptized each of my girls in that cold, African water last Wednesday, I prayed that their baptism would be a constant reminder that there is a world out there that needs to hear and see the love of Jesus.  I pray that each of them–in whatever way God calls them–will be a part of going into all the world with the Good News.

From Africa with love,

They sound the same

There is a local culinary delicacy here in Kenya called “ugali”. It is pronounced “u” (like the “oo” in moon), “gha”, “lee”; with the emphasis on “gha”. What pasta is to the Italians, what tamales are to the Latinos, what hamburgers are to Americans—ugali is to the Kenyans. Even the mention of its name brings a broad smile to their faces, a warm sensation to their hearts and excited anticipation to their stomach juices. I think it is very similar to the same effect the mention of Blue Bell Rocky Road ice cream has on me.Most of the Kenyans I meet insist that I must try ugali before I leave. Several of my friends have offered to have me over for lunch and make ugali for me. Each time I have carefully but graciously declined. That is, until this past Sunday, when over lunch, the host brought in rice and beans in separate big pots that had been warmed over the fire. And then greens in a simple open pan. And then she retrieved out of the depths of her kitchen a small covered dish with her prized offering to us—ugali. What could I do? I had to be a gracious guest. She dished out a small portion of what looked a little like overly thick grits on to my plate. And she mentioned that if I mixed the ugali with the greens it would be the height of my culinary experience while here in Kenya. My thought was to cover the ugali with salsa and cheese, and perhaps, it would taste like an enchilada. I felt like I had to oblige her. The first bite was quite unremarkable—very little taste except for the greens. I became more daring with the next few bites—ugali alone. I must admit, it tastes like a combination of mashed potatoes and grits. My confidence was surging—so I finished my portion, complimented my host and had a sense of connection with the deep roots of the Kenyan culture.

What happened about 30 minutes later is difficult to explain. In medical terms, I would probably describe it as acute gastric distension with a component of severe, unrelenting gastrointestinal spasms. In Texas slang, I was just sick as a dog. I felt like a nuclear explosion started in my lower esophagus and reverberated all the way down to my toes.

We kindly thanked our host and commenced with our 45-minute walk home—yes, I said 45 minutes! The spasms worsened, I began to perspire, and each step of the way, it seemed like the intestinal nuclear melt-down was worsening. By the grace of God, we made it to our cottage. My family quickly offered prayers for my survival, and I created a concoction of Pepto-Bismol, Tums, Alka-Seltzer and Phenergan (don’t try this without medical supervision) and proceeded to bed, where I lay perfectly still so I could keep my ugali inside rather than outside.

I’m now 24 hours past my first ugali experience and am a little more positive about it than I was lying in the bed yesterday. The only residual symptom I have is some heartburn after meals—compared to the intestinal nuclear disaster yesterday, I am not complaining. I have given ugali a new name—I now call it “Oh Golly!!” And needless to say, I will never let this local Kenyan delicacy ever touch my lips again.

From Africa with love,

P.S. Perhaps this distress had nothing to do with ugali, maybe it was the enchiladas and pizza I had the night before!!

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,