Saturday, July 5, 2014

Kenya Mercy Medical Team Presentation: Sunday, July 13 9:30 a.m.

Dear friends,

Please join the Kenya Mercy Medical Team for their Team Presentation on Sunday, July 13th at 9:30 a.m. in Luther Loft at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Tospfield, MA.  All five members of our team will share photos of their work in Kenya and testify to God's faithfulness.  Please join us as we rejoice in God's mercy!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Reunited with my boys and safe in the home I love, I swell with gratitude, yet feel caught between worlds.  Hourly, shadows of Kenya weave into my thoughts.  On a neighborhood walk: The palettes are similar – the rich greens.  But in Luanda, the vegetation hems you in, crowds from either side to gather you into the bush.  Strapped into a dentist’s chair:  So many with tooth decay, whom I couldn’t help, and here I am, declining tooth whitener.  They snap X-rays with such perfunctoriness.  I would have loved access to an X-ray machine. . . .   When my son squeals, “Balloons!” at the sight of “Welcome Home” decorations cascading down the bannister: Just like the schoolkids.  They all love balloons. Children’s laughter chimes the same everywhere.  Then I remember the faces, so many of them: the elderly, weathered, with years creasing their brows like rings from an acacia trunk.  The young, their eyes sad, dark pools that trembled in the sunlight.  The children who protruded their bottom lip as I leaned in with my stethoscope. They never recoiled, but instead studied me and waited, straight, silent, and obedient. I would crouch to their level, and we would remain connected for a heartbeat or two, I listening to the cadence of their breath, they searching my face.

Searching for what?  Understanding?  Hope?  The missionary leading our team often remarked, “You are the face, and hands, and feet of Christ.” At the time, that idea seemed both presumptuous and daunting.  Yet as the days wore on, interactions with these steadfast people demonstrated that any good we provided sprang not from our own toil, but from God’s work in and through us. 

Myriad circumstances threatened to plunge us into despair, and would have if the Holy Spirit had not girded us from within.  Others have already described the 10-hour bus rides, hikes through the mud, lack of electricity, and illness that struck half the team.  In the clinic itself, obstacles mounted as our work seemed drowned in inefficiency.  We had no diagnostic techniques, aside from malaria tests and our own physical examination skills.  This limited arsenal created a heavy reliance upon history taking, but barriers in language and perspective clouded the stories we elicited.  My interpreter had not spoken English in a decade, and during each patient encounter she translated my English to Swahili in her head, then translated that Swahili into the local vernacular, then back again.  The resultant process was laborious, halting, awkward, and riddled with misunderstandings, and at day’s end she appeared even more exhausted than me.  Furthermore, the Luo’s concept of illness is rooted in the present – “I have the pain now,” was the most common reply to my inquiry, “for how long has this bothered you?”  “My arm hurts” indicated pain in any anatomical location from fingertip to shoulder, without specificity, and further clarifying the precise joint proved cumbersome for all involved.  When asked about medications, most patients responded, “I take tablets,” but did not know the indication or prescription.  Occasionally, they would dump a crinkled plastic bag of broken, nondescript pills onto my table, and I would force a smile and struggle to conceal my discouragement.  Lord, how on earth can I help here?

The most heartbreaking cases punctuated these encounters.  With furrowed brows, parents would enter cradling children with sepsis or severe malnutrition.  The babies were lethargic; those with the strength to cry were too dehydrated to produce tears.  From a practical standpoint, these were the “easiest,” most straightforward patients to manage, because their need for hospital transfer was obvious.  From a spiritual standpoint, however, something vital within me tore with each encounter.  They were by no means the first faces of suffering I had witnessed; as an ICU specialist, it’s my job to nurture patients in their final days.  However, the severity of preventable illness in children so young, incited a raw sense of anguish within me that I’d never previously confronted.  The first of these babies managed a feeble cry when I took her into my arms. I felt her hip bones protruding through the blankets, saw the pain and fright in her eyes, and feared I would break down myself.  Instead, I prayed for strength.  Then, “Mama? I am a mother too. She is very sick. She needs help.”  I led them both out, my hand on her elbow, the Lord supporting mine.

Had the Lord not walked with us during such trials, despondency would have overcome.  We met so many people in the advanced stages of illness, for whom we could provide only basic care.  We witnessed inadequacies in infrastructure, and financial disparities that sparked recurrent thoughts of injustice and hopelessness.  Despite all the children for whom we diagnosed and treated malaria, during those first two days I perseverated on what we could not do – the CT scans and colonoscopies we could not order, the lesions we could not biopsy, the blood tests we could not draw.  I concocted schemes in my mind for starting a mission hospital, to provide real care. However, as the areas for improvement stacked up in my head, my heart – still anchored in the world -- became heavy.  This is just one village.  How many more are in similar circumstances?  How many so direly need help?  How can we endure so much poverty and suffering?

Despite our meager services, each day more patients flocked to the clinic.  Volunteers guided entire families into queues and beneath tents, where they waited for hours just to sit with us, to talk with us about their back pain, their toothache, their cough.  They left their homes at 5 am and rode their bikes or walked barefoot along the muddied roads, just to talk with us.  The numbers overwhelmed me, until I realized that the Lord guided all these people to us, and that our clinic was His vehicle, not the ultimate aim. God worked in our hearts, and in those of the patients we served, in ways both subtle and dramatic, indiscernible and cacophonous, beautiful and mysterious. 

I drained a facial abscess in a young boy.  The infection had spread throughout the soft tissue of his face, swelling his left eye shut. Without treatment, he risked sepsis or blindness.  On a rickety exam table we’d crafted from a board and two student desks, on a dry day when dust and dirt coated every surface and clung to my teeth, he lay on his side, alone, and allowed a mzungu to incise his face.  He winced, but uttered not a word.  I worried for the next two days about secondary infection, given the dirty conditions, and was relieved to watch the swelling subside during his follow up. On our final day, he astonished me. During our church service before departure, at an earlier hour than most worshipped, he arrived, lingered against a mud wall, and listened to the pastor, with a clean dressing over his wound and a calm and watchful expression on his face.  Whatever strength the Lord had stirred within him to seek treatment and silently suffer a procedure, further drew him to hear the Gospel among strangers that day.

“I am in the Lord’s hands,” one patient assured me, after I explained to him a terminal diagnosis. “I must trust in Him. He will provide what is best for me.  I see you have sympathy for me.  Thank you so much for spending time to talk to me.”

Time.  Sympathy.  Trust in the Lord.  Strength from the Lord. These were the reasons we came.  Not to distribute Tylenol.  Not to cure all ills.  Rather, we came to connect, to say, “I value you, because Christ values us all.”  To extend love, for He loves us.  To serve, because He served us first.  In my room at night, huddled under a mosquito net with a battery-powered headlamp, I would read the book of Matthew, and revisit the innumerable accounts of healing during Jesus’ ministry.  While I had wasted precious reserve lamenting our paucity of technology, as if medicine were entirely titratable and mechanical, the Lord healed with just a touch of the hand.  With faith.  God alone is the Great Physician.  Despite extensive training rooted in the secular, we physicians heal only through God’s grace.  We can support, but He alone can heal.

The moment I stopped trying to do, and instead focused on being present for the people of Luanda – to be Christ’s face, and hands, and feet – narratives unfolded from amid the foggy details of patient dialogues.  I heard themes of rejection and discouragement at local clinics; anecdotes of struggling with ailments for years without any understanding of the cause; and the frequent complaint, “they just give me tablets, but don’t explain why.  They just give me tablets, and it never gets better.”   What little healthcare the people of Luanda received, seemed delivered with an air of aloofness and paternalism that left villagers dissatisfied, frightened, and discouraged.  They received tablets, but no care.  No laying on of hands.  No consolation.  No teaching.  No hope. No hint of the Gospel.

In most instances, I could only give tablets, too.  But with the Lord’s mercy, I could also offer my time, sympathy, and trust in the Lord.  I could assure them that I had traveled halfway around the world to be with them, because we are all one in Christ.  I could reach out my hand, and replace the distant white coat with the warmth of my palm. I could listen with sincerity to how their illness affected their work, their families, their homes.  I could explain that although I could not cure their pain, I would help them to understand the cause, and offer methods to help.  When circumstances seemed particularly dire, I could connect patients them with the local congregation, to buttress their support within the church and the community. And I could conclude each encounter with an appeal to God, to remind them that all are without pain and suffering in Heaven.  

The secretary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Kenya (ELCK) delivered several sermons during our time, and more than once he stated, “the work done here, is not our work, but God at work.”  I recall the many faces and stories we were privileged to witness in Luanda, and the truth of those words unveils itself.   Senders, thank you for this precious opportunity to serve, and to witness God’s grace and glory.  We are all one in Christ, and as such, you all have brothers and sisters in Kenya.  When we journeyed to Africa, we carried each of you with us in our hearts, hopes, and minds.  Your prayers steeled us, and your love spurred us on. 

A closing thought, again from the pastor of the ELCK: “This church is only a few months old. Before we built this church, we worshiped under a tree. And God was there, under that tree! Because he promised us, ‘I will be with you, until the end of the age.’ So God is also with each of you.”


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Dear Senders,
Not a day goes by that I don't reminisce in the amazing opportunity God provided for me to travel to Kenya.
Serving almost 2000 people in 5 days was no easy task for our Mercy Medical Team. Some of us battled illness, others fought discouragement; all of us dealt with an extended 10-hour bus ride and struggled with fatigue and jet lag. It was clear that Satan did not want us in Kenya and he was doing everything to prevent us from doing the work we were called to do.
But we persevered: during the allotted bible study time, we discussed what it meant to be the "Good and faithful servant" in Kenya and how to avoid the temptation of weaning into the habits of the "Wicked and lazy servant." Through our amazing God's enabling power, we were motivated in our clinical endeavors.
We witnessed malaria (and lots of it); malnutrition; extreme hypertension; tooth decay; chronic chest, leg and back pain; as well as numerous other abnormalities and diseases. Countless patients talked with the nurses and listed over half a dozen chief complaints (while the average patient has 1 or 2 chief complaints). The doctors and practitioners had no way to test or diagnose most diseases, thus their treatment was based solely on the patient's symptoms and practitioner's instincts. The pharmacy, utilizing drugs, medications, and hygiene products donated by our senders and team's individuals, ran out of the most needed drugs and hygiene products, but maintained ample supply of drugs not often used.
This is no easy way to practice medicine: prescribing a toothbrush and toothpaste to a patient that really needs teeth pulled is not ideal; assessing a patient's situation without any sort of diagnostic testing is not ideal; sharing a room with 10 other patient's in a space that does not promote privacy or tranquility is not ideal. Yet throughout all this adversity it was clear that God wanted us to run the clinic, that God wanted us to reach the unreached peoples of Luanda, Kenya, that God wanted us to enable to community churches to provide for those in need.
Through the strength of Christ, this team provided hope for people that do not often see light at the end of the tunnel. I'd provide one story to close out my final blog entry: an 85-year old woman left her home at 5am and walked to our clinic, which did not start until at least 8:30 (depending on whether our bus got stuck or not). She was in pretty poor health and I'll spare you the details but we could not treat her to the necessary extent, so we sent her with our team's bus to a local facility that also was unable to treat her. Consequently she returned home untreated. This elderly lady has no family or friends to support her financially and counts single handedly on a neighbor, who is often out of town, for food and water. But throughout all of this, her poor financial situation, her poor health, and whatever else in life she is going through, she had hope in a Mercy Medical Team. She had so much hope that she walked for 3 hours to a clinic. And although we were not able to directly help her current situation, the long-term LCMS missionaries and local church leaders will be following up with her and investigating community resources to help her.
It is because of hope like this that we travel to Kenya to treat total strangers and screaming children, it is this kind of hope that pushes me to strive for a career in medicine, and it is with this kind of hope that we all should seek out our God in times of despair and in times of celebration: and it is a time like this that I celebrate what God has done in Kenya, what He is doing in Kenya, and what He will continue to do in Kenya! Thanks for all the prayers, love, and support!


My final thoughts on the Kenyan journey:  In reflecting on this trip, first I want to say that when God calls on you to go, JUST GO!  The call may come as a small inkling, desire, thought or may be a strong uncontrollable urge.  However it comes, say yes.  In return, you will have a deepening of faith and trust in Him.  At the beginning I was ambivalent about  leaving my family and the familiar to go to a part of the world I knew very little about except for stories of  great unrest and turmoil  recently depicted on the news.  I had no faith that God would protect me or had my best interest at heart, or more importantly, that He has  plans to fulfill.  Obviously I was going to depend on my own  strength and resources if I decided to go.  Fortunately, each team member received significant support from their church family, small group members and the LCMS synod with prayers and communications outlining conditions and travel risks and supports.  I also prayed to God to give me a willing and obedient heart and a heart that wanted to please and glorify Him.  Eventually, my fears were ameliorated and I was ready to go.  The love and support of friends, church family and continual prayer made all the difference in the world.

The work before us was hard, but God gave us the strength, stamina and courage to complete the task He had set before us.  God provided  before any of us even decided to go on this trip.  He made our paths straight for the journey.  He brought together the group of 13 that encompassed different strengths, gifts, skills, compassions, passions, personalities, and experiences precisely at the right time to do His work.  I continue to marvel that 13 strangers can come together and worked as well as we did together.  When satan acted as an obstructionist against His plans, such as,  buses getting stuck in the mud on clinical opening day; alternative travel routes that were 3-4 hours longer for certain destinations that had to be taken because of political/civil unrest; confusion,frustration,and tension amongst Kenyans waiting to be seen; fatigue, sickness and a sense of overwhelm amongst team members looking at the work placed before them; not knowing what types of medical conditions and emergencies would come through the door and did; facing actual hunger,disease,poverty and desperation in the faces of humanity - God showed us that He can and does care for every single one of His children through our hands,feet,minds and mouths for His glory.  Seeing all these people waiting all day in extremely long lines to be seen by an evangelist and clinical provider has taught me that people are enduring and hopeful and has given me a deeper sense of hopefulness,encouragement and compassion for humanity, not just feeling sorry for them.  Thinking about the throngs of people that crowded Jesus to hear his message and receive His healing gives me a greater sense of urgency not only for the need of physical healing, but more importantly for spiritual healing first, and anyone can be a conduit for Jesus to continue to perform His miracles.  I was touched by a man who was afflicted with a severe skin rash for decades of his life and he felt that this condition was secondary to witchcraft - my immediate thoughts were not to prescribe a cream, but to ask him about his faith.  He answered that he was a “christian”, but could not tell me the name of who he served.  I then proceeded to ask him what would happen to him if he should die that very moment - he said he did not know.  I told him the Good News and he agreed to and was ushered into pastoral counseling on hand at that moment.  I can tell you that this encounter was spirit led and had nothing to do with me, but it impressed upon me the urgency and responsibility that every christian who follows Christ has to speak and make His name known as well as to pray first and foremost for spiritual healing for everyone.  

Our nightly devotional time was very important to each of us, as it provided time to reflect on what God had done each day, as well as renewed our strength for the next day.  Our team pastor, John helped us reflect on how God uses each one of us for His purpose.  Being a tool used by God for His purposes has become of greatest importance to me.  I may not see the fruits of labor on this side of heaven, but I know that I was created in this time and place for His reasons and I also know that His plans for me cannot be surpassed by anything I may have in mind and I don’t need to be afraid of His plans.  I don’t pretend to have made a difference in anyone’s life that I came in contact with during this trip - hopefully I did - but, I do know that God has made a difference and He continues to do his work.  He has compassion for all His children (the situation may look extremely bleak through our lenses)but He is able to use each one of us as a conduit for His plan if we have a willing heart, and in return He continues to mold us more into the likeness of His Son.  What more do we need!  As the saying goes “god doesn’t make junk” - we all have something to give, as He has given to us freely.  Jesus said that He came to serve and not to be served and this trip impressed upon me that no task done for God is too little, because the Lord is mighty and miracles continue to happen through Him.  No offering is too meager for Him to work with.  I guess what I am trying to say in too many words is that placing Jesus first in all our ways, and works and efforts made in His name, will bear witness to Him and our reward will be knowing that we worship and serve God to bring Him pleasure and be a vehicle for his continued grace to ourselves and others as well as continuing to grow in deepening faith and trust in Him no matter the circumstances.  To Him be the glory.  Thank you for sending me - I am forever grateful.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Hi all, we look forward to coming home and seeing you all.  Our trip was blessed.  We saw over 1900 patients over the five days.  The Kenyan peoples are very hospitable and generous as well as appreciative, but we truly are the ones who have been blessed.  The Lord's hands are mighty in all he does and he enables and works through every single one of us to do his work.  We may not immediately see the fruits of our labor, but we can rest in knowing that He uses us to glorify Himself when surrendering our will to Him and work in His Name.    In spite of the hard work, He sustained us to the very end.  This was an exhilarating time for me and I can not say enough about it and look forward to telling you.  The safari was awesome.  We saw everything except a panther and rhino.  The animals were up close and personal - of course we stayed on the safari bus!!  We did get stuck in the mud once and had to get out and push to no avail.  While pushing we saw fresh lion prints in the mud surrounding us.  By God's grace there was another safari van coming along the way and pulled us out by tow rope and we were on our way again.  The safari camp site was fantastic outfitted with permanent tents, toilets and hot showers which we were not used to all week, but we had to keep our tents locked up, especially at night as the monkeys know how to unzip the tents and reek havoc inside.  While having a picnic lunch on the Tanzanian border yesterday a monkey ran up to Kyle and took his sandwich right out of his hand.  Kyle was not happy, but we had a good time at his expense.  The landscape here is ever changing and is extremely beautiful.  If there is ever an opportunity to come to Kenya for a mission trip, I guarantee you will be blessed and you will not be disappointed.  Looking forward to telling you all about it in person.
God Bless for now, Marie  

Hi All!

I feel just as I do when I sign cards to people and Wendy has said all of the right things ---What do I have to add!!!!
I would summarize, that after spending a day in Nairobi-which was interesting and enjoyable, that Kenya is  a country of vast contrasts:  geographically from the coastal area to the bush and primitive conditions to the magnificent and expansive highland game preserve area---and culturally from sophisticated Nairobi to our village medical mission experience near Kisumu.  The contrasts in both respects is almost too much to comprehend and explain in an e-mail  And the political and social issues-some of which reach our eyes and ears in the United States -- make one so thankful that we have social order in our country .

The one constant in all of this is that the Christian Church and in our case the Lutheran Church in Kenya continues to reach out to all parts of society bringing Jesus' Love and working on changing hearts and minds of everyone in Kenya.  It was quite amazing to see one of the Bishops of the Lutheran Church, sophisticated, with a doctoral degree from Fort Wayne, leading worship in a mission church mud hut in the bush of western Kenya.  And this is on a rainy day with the "main" dirt road not passable for some distance such that we walked some distance to the turnoff leading to the mud hut church.  And the turnoff pass to the church was little more that a very wide cow path and was a slippery half mile or so the the church.
Communion that day was even more special.  

I am thankful to have been able to support the work of Christ through the Lutheran Church in Kenya.
Love to all

Sunday, June 15, 2014

June 12th Blog Posts

Hi everyone, hope all is well.  We have had a fruitful  three days out in the field.  Yesterday, our bus broke down in the mud on the way to the clinic and we walked for about a mile the rest of the way and then saw about 300+ patients and today we saw 435.   By the grace of God, we all worked together like a well oiled machine.  Unfortunately, we had a few sick people past couple of days, but they are on the mend.  The Kenyans are a wonderful and appreciative people and we are the ones who are blessed.  The stories go on and on and we look forward to sharing them with you when we get home.  Our team is great and our team leaders are taking excellent care of us.  Our devotional time at the end of the day are very special and feed us spiritually for the next day.  It truly is exciting  be here.  The Lord continues to be mighty and it is such a blessing to have the opportunity to worship and serve Him here.  God bless you all and see you soon.  Thank you for sending us!

-- Marie

Greetings from Kenya!  We miss all of you and thank you all for your prayers and love.

Serving in this community has been a tremendously challenging, yet enriching experience.  We are in a rural area about an hour outside of Kisumu, where most people depend upon the sweat of their brows to survive.  All homes -- most of them constructed from mud, with corrugated tin roofs -- have a personal plot of maize, and usually a cow or goat grazing out front amid the chickens.  None of the homes have electricity, and we are fortunate that our hotel at least has a generator and running toilets.   The countryside is beautiful, but the poverty is striking.  Villagers eat whatever they grow.  Without a cash crop, there is little opportunity to earn an income.  Most children drop out of secondary school  to help out at home and to eliminate the cost of school fees.  The average age of marriage among women is 14-15, and pregnancy either precedes or shortly follows such unions.  Despite the preponderance of HIV in the community, the stigma remains high, and so very few patients in clinic admit to positivity.  At least half the people travel across mud and dirt roads barefoot -- and many traveled for miles barefoot to attend the clinic, with some elderly patients leaving home at 5 in the morning.

The first two days of clinic were especially challenging, and yesterday evening I wanted to throw in the towel.  The patients here are very sick, with many having advanced stages of disease because they are too poor to afford healthcare.  Our supplies in clinic are rudimentary, and our only diagnostic tests are for malaria and HIV, so we’re limited in the degree to which we can provide care.  We have had a few encouraging “saves” -- e.g., severely malnourished, dehydrated, or septic infants whom we transported to the hospital, who would likely have died had we not intervened -- however, we often recognize very serious illness in patients, but can only tell them, “here’s some Tylenol, but you should really get this checked out at the local hospital”. . . which they won’t do, because they cannot afford the fees.

Initially, I found this tremendously disheartening.  I anticipated ahead of time that the discrepancy in capabilities between Kenya & the States would be the hardest aspect of the mission for me to wrestle with, but that expectation didn’t lessen the frustration and mounting despair.  Add the dirt, spotty electricity, cold showers, distance from loved ones, and sickness among team members (Lynn has had some gastrointestinal trouble, but is doing ok; the rest of us are fine), and yesterday I was ready to apologize to all senders and declare, “Lord, I can‘t quite hear you on this line. . .can you call another time?”

Last night, however, Marie, with her characteristic sincerity and depth of feeling, shared a moment from the chaos of clinic for which I’ll be forever grateful.  She described a patient who had no connection or support, in a community where family and friends are one’s only assets.  She said she felt the Holy Spirit moving her to pray with this gentleman.  She connected him with the local pastor, to ensure he could garner nurturing among his neighbors.

Her anecdote so touched me, that I realized I’d fallen trap to my usual Western focus on efficiency, and had exchanged the Spirit for an emphasis on worldly things that are bound to fail.  With poverty and illness so insurmountable, all people in this community have is hope of Heaven.   After acknowledging this, this morning I read a card from Matthew Beish that he had directed me to open specifically on the 12th -- of all days!  -- and in it, he reminded that God is the Great Physician, and that all will be free from sickness and pain in Heaven.  What tremendous encouragement!

Today, with an open heart and refreshed spirit, I found clinic exhausting, but wonderfully rewarding.  The highlight came when an elderly man named James asked for assistance, because he had continued bleeding after “hemorrhoid” surgery a year ago.  He showed me a pathology report that revealed he had  not hemorrhoids, but rather rectal cancer., which to achieve cure would require complete resection with a colostomy, and likely chemoradiation therapy thereafter.  The practice among local doctors is to withhold diagnoses from patients when they cannot afford treatment, so they “don’t worry”. . . but this patient was clearly distressed by the constant dispensation of pain medication, without discussion of fixing his problem.  Although I came from half the globe away and had only known him for a few minutes, I was the first person to tell him his diagnosis. After a half hour of discussion complete with diagrams, I held his hand and promised I would pray for him.  He looked at me and said, “I know you have sympathy for me.  Thank you so much.  I must leave it to God now.  Whatever comes, He will look after me.”

Our team has been a blessing.  Marie has been a rock and a source of cheer and inspiration for all.  Lynn never shies away from the hard tasks.  Hank is a steadfast presence of wisdom, patience, and wit. And I have never seen a young man work as hard and with such dedication and compassion as Kyle.

We run clinic through Saturday.  Sunday morning, we’ll be attending church in Luanda, and then in the afternoon teaming up with our safari company and heading to the Masai Maara.  We’ll be on safari Sunday & Monday, return to Scripture Mission in Karen on Tuesday, and then board the flight home Wednesday night!

Thank you, all senders, all family members and church friends.  We cannot wait to see you again!