Thursday, September 25, 2014

Medical 1 of 3: Why Medical Camps?

Some people may wonder why we lead mobile medical and dental clinics into the mountains. After all, our work’s main focus is not to provide medical and dental care to the people who live in the high valleys. Nobody on our team has a medical or dental background. So why do we do this kind of work? Let me start off by saying our number one goal is to see fellowships started and hearts changed. Actually, it’s more that just our number one goal, its the only goal. It’s the reason we left our homes and families. The reason we raise up teams of doctors, nurses, and dentists and lead them into the high valleys to conduct mobile clinics is two-fold: First, it is impossible for us to speak to the spiritual need and neglect the many physical needs. Secondly it provides our team with a “platform” to work from and a reason to spend time in a restricted area that the high valleys are located in. The situation in the area that we work in is slowly changing for the better, but the physical needs are still great. There are no roads into the area. Because of its remote nature, the whole area is largely neglected by the government. There are no hospitals and no doctors for several days’ walk in any direction. Because of that, the infant mortality rate is at 50%. Yes, half of the children born in the high valleys don’t make it to the age of two. Additionally 1 in 7 women die during child birth. Those statistics break our hearts. When I first read them, I couldn’t believe it, but when we ask mothers in the village how many children they have, they always tell us both the number of children they have given birth to and the number of children that have survived. It’s not just a statistic to the families—they live with it everyday. The good news is that in the past three years six local people have been trained in nursing and are serving their own villages. They are each supported by different non-governmental organizations. Each of them has completed the 10th grade and then completed a 3-year training course in nursing. Their training is limited, but we have had the opportunity to further some of their training and better equip them by having doctors from the outside work alongside them. Many of the nurses have been trained as skilled birth attendants. Some research that our team helped conduct last year will hopefully lead to a better infant vaccination program. We want to see hearts changed. We believe hearts changed will lead to less promiscuity which will lead to fewer STDs which will lead to healthy mothers and babies. At the same time we feel called to put our faith into action.

Medical 2 of 3: What is a Mobile Medical/Dental Clinic?

Putting the two words “medical” and “camp” together may sound very foreign to the American ear. I remember when we first started working internationally, and the organization we were partnering with was planning a “surgery camp.” Doesn’t that just sound like the worst kind of summer camp to go to? When I went to summer camp as a kid we did things like archery, horseback riding, and swimming. Nobody was getting a knee operation. Internationally, the word “camp” is used a little wider than it is in America. The word comes from the Latin campus which simply means “level ground” and that is what we are looking for in our “camps” - level ground. Or sometimes just somewhat level is all we can find. We travel to different villages, and if there is an established nurse with a health post, we set up in or near the health post. If there is no health post, then we look for level ground to set up our tent. Sometimes that is in a school compound, but sometimes it is just an empty piece of ground in the village. We usually have both a doctor and a dentist with us. We also carry about 200 lb. of medication and supplies. We set up in the health post or tent and announce to the village that we are ready to see patients. Usually that is when the dam breaks we are flooded with people until we turn them away for the night. People are registered and then get to see the doctor, dentist, or both depending on their need. The doctors are able to do check-ups and physicals, prescribe antibiotics for infections, and provide medicine for high blood pressure, STDs, asthma, fungi, and many other ailments. The dentists are able to do cleanings, extractions, tooth restorations (for cavities), and even provide dental crowns. Of course a main focus for both the doctor and dentist is education. Simple medical education about hygiene, diet, and basic teaching on how our bodies work is extremely helpful. The fact that quite a few people in their thirties and forties in the high valleys are missing half (or nearly all) of their teeth is proof that oral hygiene education is greatly needed as well. We usually stay in one place for two or three days, seeing around 60 patients a day. Usually part of every day the doctor will do house calls to those people who can’t make it out of their homes. Those are usually the hardest times for the doctors. For many of those patients, usually with failing hearts or livers,  there is not much we can do except ease some of their discomfort. Sometimes just being with them is the best thing we can do. With everyone we see, we have the opportunity to share with them and pray for them as well. After the second or third day, we pack up and are on our way to the next place.

Medical 3 of 3: True Development

As we said in the first of this series, our number one goal is to see fellowships started and hearts changed. That is why we are here. We believe that when people follow God and their hearts are changed that is the greatest step that can be made in community or social development. The problems we see are complex and many. Alcoholism, promiscuity, domestic violence, child abuse, child labor, and the list goes on and on. It is the same everywhere among all peoples. Do we, as westerners, have answers for all these problems? Does child abuse still happen in America and Western Europe? Yes. Depression? Yes. Theft, Murder, Infidelity, and Drunkenness? Yes. Therefore, we believe that knowledge, finance, and laws or regulations cannot solve these social issues. There has to be more. A heart change is needed, a surrender of wills to His will is the only way we see a whole community change. That is what we want to see happen.

On the other hand, since we are lending a hand in the medical, dental, and education realms, we also want to make sure that we are helping responsibly. We don’t want to condition the community to think that everything they need should come from the outside for free. People wanting to do good can destroy communities that way. For that reason, our medical and dental camps are not completely free. There is no charge to see the doctor, but we charge full price for the medications. From a western perspective the cost of medicine might still seem like a prohibitive cost, but here medicine is very affordable. Some courses of antibiotics only cost 20 cents while some of the more expensive courses are still only about five dollars. So we provide the doctor for free as well as the transportation for the medication (which usually costs almost as much as the medication itself), but the recipient must pay for his or her own medication. The dentist will provide a check-up for free, but we charge a flat rate of 2 dollars for extractions, restorations, or cleanings. In this way we hope to do our helping in a responsible way.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

When You Don't Know What to Do

Have you ever been at a crisis point? When you think you heard clearly from Him a course of action you were to take? When you confidently stepped out in pursuing the direction you felt He guided you toward? And then, nothing seemed to work the way it should have?

We've been in one of those places lately. Seven months ago, we began seeking other options for long-term stay in our country. What seemed like His direction led us to apply for a teaching position, one that appeared to be the perfect fit and timing for us. Since that time, we have experienced one set back after another. Having done everything right, things have just worked out in a way that have left us often hanging on the edge of what to do. When these things happen, does that mean you heard wrong? That we pursued the wrong thing? Or are we meant to walk through these trials? Experience these difficulties?

Though I cannot give all the details, this has been a journey of waiting, trusting, not understanding, being hit with one surprise after another, and financial stress. Our gracious Father has generously provided for everything, yet we stand again at another point that leaves me, in particular, scratching my head and feeling like I'm sinking.

It seems particularly fitting to this case that our last two sermons in our fellowship have been about waiting when you don't understand--which we are still doing. And not worrying--casting all our cares on Him and not taking them back. What a challenge!

Have you ever been there? And does it mean you heard wrong or that you were supposed to walk through something? Or will we ever know?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Are You Crazy?

It's been good for me to write about these things over the past few months, as they stir in me the longing to go back. After reading all these posts, you're probably asking the question, "Are you people certifiably nuts? Why on earth would you do that? And especially why would you ever take your kids there?"

Honestly, I struggled with that question a lot because everyone I knew, with the exception of a few, basically told us we were crazy for even considering it. We truly believed, though, that He would not have called us into this if it weren't meant for our family to do it together. We asked a lot concerning when and how we could do this as a family.

In the weeks preceding the trip, I began to doubt. Then one day I heard the song Oceans from Hillsong United. The lyrics spoke straight to my heart. These are just a few of the ones that really touched me at my point of doubt:

You call me out upon the water
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find you in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand

Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your Sovereign hand will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You've never failed and You won't start now

I think it's very possible for feet to fail on a trip like this. Fear literally can surround you--I mean, have you ever heard wolves howling in the woods outside your tent?! After hearing the song the one time, I asked the Lord, "Would you use this song to speak to me about this trip and whether it's what we're supposed to be doing?" I couldn't remember the lyrics or tune so I left it at that. I even tried to remember it and couldn't. Then, one night three days later, I woke up in the middle of the night with the bridge playing as a loud as a radio in my head. It filled me with such a sense of peace.

Spirit, lead me where my trust is without borders,
Let me walk upon the water,
Wherever you would call me,
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger,
In the presence of my Savior.

And that is exactly what He did. You get to the point where you say, "Okay, Lord. I'm okay with this since you want me to do it." But what if it doesn't turn out okay even though He called you to it? What if it costs you dearly? Can you be okay with even then? I'm still wrestling with that question, especially when it comes to my family, but I have a peace that if ________, then God. That's how Beth Moore put it, and I think it pretty much sums it up.

Thanks for listening over these months, and I hope you'll enjoy snippets from P.J.'s current trip soon, too.

The Road Home

These are just some photos from the way down. When we reached the lower areas, we began to see beautiful trees, delicious rosehips, and seabuckthorn berries. They were definite sweet rewards for all that hard work! It took us two and a half more days from the town we reached after the pass to reach the town where the airstrip was. One of the days, the trail was mostly gone so we had to make new paths along with hundreds of sheep, but He got us through it. And we got to spend our last night in a tent inside that cool cave! Guaranteed to not get wet as our tent's plastic window in the fly disappeared about halfway through the trip so it was no longer waterproof.

This water just screams, "Please swim in me! I'm so clear!"

Some of the trail is just broken rock crumbles.

That's how we do it!

The Last Pass: Part 2

This was perhaps one of my most difficult days--almost too difficult for me to describe in words. The wind was bone chilling, the kids were exhausted, and they literally cried all the way up and down the pass. It was hours. It distressed everyone, but there was nothing we could do. They were dressed very warmly so I think not sleeping well and the irritating wind were mostly to blame. I told the horse guy, "We need to get out of here. If we stop, they will only get colder. We need to go no matter how much they cry!" Eventually, it got so difficult that when I saw P.J. coming up over the pass behind me, I burst into tears and walked away, hoping that maybe their dad could fix something that I couldn't. Again, it was not one of my finest mothering moments, but it just broke me to have them absolutely inconsolable, mostly because they were tired and irritated by the wind. I felt that day that my daughter would never forgive me for how impatient I was with her, that she'd hate me forever, but I'm happy to say that she loves to snuggle me still.

Eventually, we reached the point where she just couldn't ride the horse any longer, and that man who had proudly led her horse for 4 weeks, put my little girl on his back, covered her with a blanket, and carried her fast asleep that way for several hours. He was exhausted, but I will be forever grateful for how he made things better when I couldn't. She was much more pleasant that evening after all that napping, too!