Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Chai Time for Life

When asked what I miss the most about living in Kenya, I think of chai time.  Not just chai (which is amazing in its own right with Kenyan tea leaves and fresh milk from the cow), but chai time.

Kenyans drink a lot of chai.  For breakfast, mid-morning, lunch, mid-afternoon, supper.  Maybe other times in between.  Basically, any time of day is a good time for chai.  And my favorite part of drinking chai is the time it takes to drink it.

Not because it takes long to guzzle it down, but because it involves putting everything else on pause in order to sit down together.

During mid-morning chai time at the hospital, Eli and his team of residents and interns would pause rounding on patients in order to sit down at a table and drink chai together.

During mid-morning chai time at our house, the boys and I would pause homeschooling and our househelper would pause cleaning/cooking so we could sit down at the table and drink chai together.

This was not a gathering at the water cooler.  We did not stand around and make small talk about the weather.  Not exactly.

We sat down at the table together, we prayed over the chai, and we talked.  Sometimes about the weather, yes, but about many other things as well.  We talked about where we came from, what songs were sung at church, the best way to eat a loquat, why our kids wanted to carve faces into pumpkins, what we'd be cooking for the Christmas meal, my multiple language blunders, and much more.

Basically, we spent time appreciating each other and trying to understand each other better.  It was a way of loving one another.

And sometimes we didn't say much at all.  Yet the long silences that sometimes ensued while sipping chai were not uncomfortable.  We didn't feel obligated to fill the silence.  There was peace in simply sitting around a table together, pausing from everything else, and being still together.


Asa drinking his first cup of chai


Recently our family took a break not unlike chai time.  It was a time of putting everything else on pause, of intentionally sitting down together to appreciate each other and understand each other better, and sometimes to sit in silence together and let that be okay.  It was a sort of chai time for life.

It took a few weeks, and actually required a lot of heart work, and was so very good.  We came away feeling more connected, more patient and present with each other, and ready to unpause and dive back into life.  The only thing that could've made it better is if there'd been an actual cup of chai in our hands!

As we prepare to head back to Kenya in a few weeks, we look forward to re-embracing the rhythm of chai time, of pausing together to intentionally be together.  This, I believe, is one way we can love each other well.


Saturday, December 29, 2018

Righteousness and Obedience: Christmas and All Year Long

Recently I enjoyed a two-day Sabbath away from home.  Two nights by myself, Bible and commentary in hand.  I spent hours reading the Christmas story all over again, appreciating it in its fullness and gaining new insights from the commentary.  Of everything I pored over, two things captured me:

righteousness 
and 
obedience

In particular, Joseph and Mary exhibited these qualities.  And we have much to learn from them that can and should be applied all year long.  As we enter into a new year, I'm encouraged to continue loving and pursuing a righteous and obedient life.


"Joseph her husband was a righteous man..."

Scripture has very little to say about Joseph, but we know this much: he was a righteous man.  It's one of the first things we learn about him.  In Matthew 1:18, we learn that he and Mary were pledged to be married to one another.  In the next verse we read plainly: "Joseph her husband was a righteous man..."  The Greek word that's translated into English as "righteous" is δίκαιος (pronounced dē'-kī-os).  According to www.blueletterbible.org, it means exactly how it was translated: righteous.  To take it further, it describes someone who observes divine and human laws.  To take it further still, it describes someone "who is such as he ought to be."

Joseph was a righteous man.  He was such as he ought to be.

After letting that sink in, I decided this will be a new prayer of mine: "Lord, may I be as I ought to be."

Meaning, may I be as He desires me to be.  May I bear His image with honor and humbleness.  May I see people and treat people like Jesus does.  May I follow and serve Him no matter the cost.  May I listen to Him and choose obedience to Christ every day.  May I bear fruit for His Kingdom because I am being as I ought to be.

I am humbled by Joseph's righteousness, not because it existed in a vacuum but because it led to faithful obedience.  Matthew 1:19 actually begins, "Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man..."  This is the verse that tells what Joseph did upon hearing that Mary was pregnant, and not by him.  According to Mosaic Law, he could have had her publicly judged and stoned.  Instead, because he was a righteous man, he decided to divorce her quietly and spare her the experience of public shame.  This says a lot about Joseph's character.

But that's not all.

After he decided that a quiet divorce was the better course of action, an angel visited Joseph in a dream and told him to marry Mary anyway.  The angel explained that "what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit" and the baby - to be named Jesus - would save His people from their sins.

Then, "When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife" (Matthew 1:24, emphasis mine).

Joseph did as he was told.  Even though it made little sense.  Even though it would invite chastisement from those around them.  Even though it required reorienting his perception of the situation.  Even though it meant working through the confusing and painful emotions of betrayal and distrust so they could be replaced with understanding and love.  Even though it meant agreeing to a different life than he'd signed up for.

Despite all that came with it, Joseph did as he was told.

Because of all that came with it, Joseph did as he was told.

He did as he was told because he was being as he ought to be.

I'm convinced that righteousness begets obedience.  Joseph chose to obey the command of the Lord because he was righteous.  Later, when an angel again appeared to Joseph in a dream and gave a command, he obeyed.  Right away.  He didn't even wait until morning, but "got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt" (Matthew 2:14).  Joseph's righteous character led to obedience.  His love for God led to service of the King.

And I'm sure that's why he was chosen to be the husband of Mary and the earthly father of Jesus.

Mary would need a righteous man to stand by her and withstand the judgments from those around them.  She would need someone who could (and did) hear the Lord and believe her story.  She would need someone willing to parent a child not entirely his own.

And Jesus would need a righteous man to love and care for His human self.  He would need someone who could (and did) hear the Lord and rush to protect his family by escaping in the night.  He would need someone willing to cross borders and live cross-culturally for an uncertain amount of time in order to keep his child safe.

The Christmas story would not be the same without Joseph.  It would not be the same without his righteousness.


"I am the Lord's servant.  May it be to me as you have said."

We know a bit more about Mary than we do about Joseph.  What continues to astound me is her humble character.  She knew her place in the universe.  I don't mean that she was chosen to be the mother of the Savior, but that she was committed to being the Lord's servant.  Period.

Her response to the angel Gabriel's announcement that she would give birth to the Son of the Most High displays her heart: "May it be to me as you have said" (Luke 1:38).  Someone overwhelming and frightening shows up unexpectedly (hence the need to say "Do not be afraid, Mary") and says something kinda crazy (you're gonna have a baby even though you're a virgin - and he'll be the Savior of the world, by the way), and Mary essentially says, "Yeah, okay.  Whatever you say is cool with me."

She was obedient.  Even though it meant her reputation would be maligned.  Even though it meant her relationship with her betrothed would be deeply affected.  Even though it meant a sword would pierce her own soul too (Luke 2:35).  Even though it meant agreeing to a different life than she'd signed up for.

Despite all that came with it, Mary said yes.

Because of all that came with it, Mary said yes.

Mary said yes because she was obedient.

And I think she was obedient because first she was righteous.  The two tend to go hand in hand.  Righteousness begets obedience.

Mary and Joseph, a righteous and obedient couple, suffered much for their decisions to follow and serve God how He asked them to.  But they also benefited much.  They experienced miracles.  They spoke with angels face to face.  They gained a personal understanding of how the Holy Spirit can work through humanity.  They witnessed firsthand how joy can infect people (think of Zechariah and Elizabeth, the shepherds, Simeon, and Anna).  They were literally gifted with expensive and lavish presents.

But more than anything, they were blessed with participating in God's good plan for the world.  And "Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart" (Luke 2:19).  "The child's father and mother marveled at what was said about [Jesus]" (Luke 2:33).




We recently had a long talk with some good friends about a decision they're making that has already raised questions from others.  The decision is a good one, a godly one, and they feel confirmed in moving forward after spending many months in prayer about it.  But it can be hard on the heart when others don't share an understanding of what God is asking, or when others outright question a decision being made.  Our encouragement to them was this: be obedient.  There is no greater choice to be made than obedience to Christ.  No matter the cost.  No matter what people think or say.

We also encouraged our friends by reminding them they're not alone in being questioned for making a counter-cultural decision that will affect their whole life.  We've gained some experience in that regard.  We've had people question our choice to do missions.  To live overseas.  To take our children with us.  To give up a doctor's salary.  To be financially dependent on others.  To not settle down somewhere.  To choose a perceived horrible life.  

All of this has been said of us, and often directly to us.

And sometimes it's hard to hear.  But always it's a reminder that no matter what people say or think - shoot, no matter what WE say or think sometimes - we are choosing a path of obedience.  And I hope that's because we are walking in righteousness.

So as we enter a new year, our prayer is that we would be as we ought to be, like Joseph.  And may our response to God's leading be the same as Mary's: "May it be to me as you have said."


Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Why?

Ever since the journey of "missionaryhood" began for us (over 14 years ago now) we've been asked questions many times, in many ways, that all boil down to this: Why?

Why do you want to live overseas?

Why would you choose to forsake the salary of a doctor in the States?

Why would you choose to raise your kids in a different culture?

Why would you choose to live there all the time, instead of just visiting?

Why do you want to serve overseas when there are so many needs here in the States?

Why is this so important to you?

Why?


Here is a short video we've used at churches to set up this question:




So why do we do this?  The short answer: Because God asked us to and we chose to obey, and because we believe that serving the poor is close to the heart of God, and because Africa as a whole suffers from the least amount of doctors per person than anywhere else in the world.

Check out this map from the World Health Organization.  Countries in red have less than 1 physician per 10,000 people.  This has been continually convicting us to keep doing what we're doing.




In short, God asked us to go and meet a need for healing people in Africa.  We said yes.  That's really all there is to it.

The long answer includes things like Jesus saying, "When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you.  Heal the sick who are there and tell them, 'The kingdom of God is near you.' " (Luke 10:8-9).

It also includes things like the Lord saying to Moses, "I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt.  I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.  So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians" (Exodus 3:7-8) and then the Lord packing a punch when He said, "So now, GO.  I am sending YOU to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt" (Exodus 3:10, emphasis mine).

The long answer includes us recognizing that, often, God desires to use His people to be the answer to prayers and cries for help.  It includes knowing the heart of God, which breaks for those who are sick and suffering, and knowing that He calls His own and equips His own to bring comfort and healing.

The long answer includes obedience and determination, continually confirming that we're still on track with His plan for our life, and commitment and joy to be in His service.

That's about it.

If you want the longest version to why we do what we do, give us a call and we'll tell you in person!


Saturday, October 13, 2018

The Uniqueness of Medical Missions

Thinking about ministry is much like thinking about a person: each ministry is unique in its own right, with its own set of blessings and challenges that set it apart from other ministries.  No two are the same, and they are constantly growing, adapting, and transforming over time.

With that said, some generalities can be made.  This post is about that: generalities.  Even within the relatively small medical missions world there are vastly different scenarios depending on context.  So let it be noted that this is only about generalities.

The various aspects of medical missions sometimes garner the envy of other ministries, and sometimes garner sympathy.  To understand why, here is what's generally unique about medical missions.

People come to you.
When a health professional shows up to hang his shingle, as it were, word travels fast and people suddenly start showing up at your door.  Medical missionaries rarely ever have to spend time and energy looking for people to minister to and who want their help.  People are sick all over the world, and many people have been sick for a long time without answers and without help.  So when a doctor or nurse or anyone with any ability to help with their physical needs shows up, people start flocking.  It's an incredible blessing to have the people you've come to help willingly come to your door.




You see lots of suffering and death.
The people at your door, however, are often deathly sick.  And I mean deathly.  One of the most unique and hardest aspects of medical missions is the incredible amount of suffering and death you see.  Heartbreak and tragedy are daily experiences.  Simple conditions like strep throat and serious diseases like tetanus, meningitis, and typhoid all lead to death without proper and timely intervention.  People die.  A lot.  Way more than you want to imagine and way more than you care to see.  And you see it.  You witness it with your own eyes.  It's especially hard to watch so many children die.  Mothers still die in childbirth, as do their babies, and young children still die at alarming rates from all kinds of conditions, most of which are preventable.  Medical missionaries must learn how to emotionally process all the death they see.  They must also become experienced at telling grieving family members that a loved one has died.  And sometimes grieving people wail at the top of their lungs for the entire hospital compound to hear - an ongoing reminder of the presence of death.  For all the good outcomes and healing success stories, of which there are many, the amount of suffering and death remains a shocking and sobering part of daily life for a medical missionary.




Opportunities to share the Gospel are plentiful.
Not only are people coming to find you, but many of them are eager to hear good news.  Being sick, especially if the sickness is serious, is a vulnerable place to be.  People want hope.  They want good news.  And what better news is there than the Good News?  A medical ministry offers incredible opportunities to share the love of Jesus and the hope of heaven with the sick and the dying.  Physical healing and spiritual healing often go hand in hand.  And in some places, like where we currently serve, there are few obstacles to sharing our religious convictions with patients in the hospital.




You must be careful not to forego the spiritual needs of patients.
Even though the opportunities to share the Gospel are plentiful, it's all too easy to get wrapped up in meeting the physical needs of the people around you, because the needs are glaring and abundant.  When you are faced with immediate physical needs, you tend to go into "doctor mode" and do the doctoring required to figure out what the patient needs to make them well again.  That's what you were trained to do.  Sometimes it's hard to remember the spiritual needs of someone who's lying on a bed in front of you with an arrow sticking out of his face.




Your professional training is ongoing.
We were expected to meet certain educational requirements before heading overseas as missionaries, and Eli was obviously required to have a medical license in order to practice medicine.  That medical license was obtained after seven years of medical training in America.  Family doctors in America are taught basic adult medicine and pediatrics, learning things such as helping patients with weight management and well-child checks and the occasional serious condition.  Family doctors in Africa need to know how to manage everything from malaria to cholera to worms to machete wounds.  Upon moving to Africa, Eli was required to further his medical training in order to treat diseases he'd never treated before.  For example, the very first patient Eli saw in Kenya needed to be treated for uncontrolled HIV and tuberculosis meningitis.  And that's not uncommon.  Eli has undergone extensive and ongoing medical training since moving to Africa, little of which was taught through his professional training in America.




There are days when we feel incredibly blessed to be doing what we're doing, and there are days when we envy what non-medical missionaries get to do.  I suppose that's human nature and par for the course.  Because every area of ministry has plusses and minuses, blissful benefits and dreadful downsides.

These particular aspects of medical missions are what make it unique.


Thursday, September 13, 2018

Images of Kenya: The Wildlife

Going on safari is a magical experience.  We had the privilege of going several times because we lived so close to Maasai Mara, Kenya's most well-known game preserve.  The savannah is an awe-inspiring place, a habitat with a broad diversity of wildlife that reminds us how masterful and creative our Creator God is.

These animals offer Kenya an economic boost because of the steady stream of tourists that come to see them.  And no wonder!  Going on safari is a once-in-a-lifetime experience (unless you're like us and live so close you can even do day trips - can't complain about that!).

These photos really don't do it justice.  But they offer a glimpse.

And yes, these are all my photos.  I've been asked many times if they are.  Just a regular DSLR camera, up close and personal with the animals.


I think of Aslan every time I see this photo


ubiquitous antelope


Mama zebra and baby


solitary giraffe


these two rhinos are under surveillance 24/7 
by the Kenyan Wildlife Service, 
to ensure they are protected from poachers


the Swahili word for zebra is "punda milia" 
which means "striped donkey"


leopard, one of the more elusive big cats


male ostrich


hippos are surprisingly loud creatures


baby hippo!


gathering around the water hole


hyena


we saw these beauties and Asa 
started staying "twiga"
which is Swahili for giraffe


secretary bird, which we knew all about 
from watching a Wild Kratts episode


pair of lions


cheetah


cheetah siblings recently independent from their mother


Hello, elephant!


a herd of female elephants


baby cape buffalo


silver-backed jackal


mama lion moving her cub 
to a new location


lazy lions


line of giraffes


yes, the safari jeeps really do get that close


mama baboon and baby


baby baboon!


mama rhinoceros and baby, a very rare sight


flamingo


flamingo stretching its wings


These last photos are not from safari.  But they are more examples of Kenya's diverse and incredible wildlife.


chameleon, which we could find easily 
in the yard around our house


starfish at the coast


moray eel in the tide pools at the coast


crab at the beach


Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Images of Kenya: The Culture

The best way to explain Kenyan culture is through snapshots.  There was much we had to learn about living in this culture, and much we loved about it.


church services in the village are long, 
usually several hours, and singing is a 
jubilant experience and is usually 
combined with dancing


singing and dancing at church


offerings include money as well as other items
like produce from the shambas (farms),
or even livestock like this chicken


the Bible and this hymnbook are some 
of the few texts written in the 
local Kipsigis language around Tenwek


an outhouse - this is a very nice one


an inside view of the "squatty potty"


rice at a celebration


rice can be cooked in huge quantities
so it's perfect for large gatherings


beans and rice (and pototoes) at a funeral


this funeral was a joyous event, 
evidenced by this dancing trio,
celebrating a long life well lived


there's always room for everyone on the road 
(or so it's thought)


motorcycles are called piki pikis or boda bodas
and they are everywhere - the cheapest and 
most dangerous mode of transportation


no load is too big for any vehicle...


...even for piki pikis






I cannot tell you how common 
it is to see things like this.


handwashing before a meal at someone's home


Kenyan fast food - roasted corn 
on the side of the road


in the rainy season it's important to put your 
laundry on the line before the rain clouds roll in


children gathered after a church service - 
a great time for fellowship


Chai is an extremely important aspect of Kenyan culture.
Many Kenyans drink chai in the morning, mid-morning, 
lunch, mid-afternoon, and again in the evening.  
The hospital nearly comes to a halt when it's chai time 
in the morning.  It's a chance to take a break and visit 
with each other.  We always had a chai break 
at home with our househelpers too.


Kenyan children typically begin drinking chai 
when they're two years old.  Asa reached that 
milestone while we were there and enjoyed 
his first cup of chai with our househelper.


Visiting friends in their homes is a huge honor, 
and they typically prepare a wonderful meal 
(including chai, of course) for your visit.  It usually 
takes hours to visit someone in their home because 
when you're visiting with friends there is 
nowhere else you need to be!


children are responsible for chores at a young age - 
these boys are in charge of watching the family's cattle


many people have big rain barrels (the black tank 
to the left) for acquiring drinking water 
as well as avoiding hauling water from the river


honoring people with gifts is a common part of 
saying goodbye - this Maasai blanket, the apron 
and the bag were gifts given to us by the Family 
Medicine residents as we prepared to leave Tenwek


"football" is the most popular 
sport in Kenya (of course!)