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


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 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 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!)