Friday, September 21, 2007

A week in the life of a missionary

~ an excerpt from the newsletter for Dan and Jen Davis, ELI missionaries in Kipkaren, Kenya

Last week, during staff devotions, David Tarus, our director, admonished us not to forget that many in our community struggle with heavy physical, emotional and spiritual burdens. The lives of many people directly connected to Empowering Lives have been transformed in many ways – extra income has freed people from living on a knife’s edge financially, family planning means parents have enough time, energy and resources for their children, accountability in a community seeking to follow Jesus’ teachings is beginning to elevate the status of women… But most of these changes have yet to permeate the outside community. Tarus encouraged us to look for ways to reach out to our neighbors, to be missionaries in our neighborhood. He urged us not settle in to our comfortable existence, ignoring the hurting people around us.

As a case in point, he spoke of a woman named Tecla and her family. Tecla has been drinking alcohol for some years now. Her two youngest children are extreme examples of neglect. When a staff member visited three weeks ago she found the children alone, sitting in their own diarrhea. The older of the two, a girl named Jesang, is 3. She cannot walk and talks very little; she has not developed simply because she does not receive the love, care and food she needs.

The younger child is a one year old who I first met when he came to the clinic with a burn last month. His mother had no plans to treat him, but two of her neighbors found the boy as they walked to the market, and took him and his mother to the clinic straight away. He had second degree burns all over his legs and groin, yet he sat without expression as Kiptoo the nurse cleaned and dressed his burns and gave him a penicillin injection. As far as that baby knew, he was hopeless – after awhile, you give up crying if no one answers.

Tarus’ question was, “Why hadn’t his cries been answered by us?”

Fast forward to this week’s staff meeting—Tarus asked what the highlights of people’s weekends had been; many came as a result of people responding to the needs in our community. Several mothers from the Children’s Home had gone to visit Tecla and her family and have made plans to bring her children to play here at the Children’s Home a few days a week. Another group of people had gone to a harambee – a gathering of people in the community to raise funds for something. In this case, it was medical school fees for a young woman from across the river. She made it into medical school, but her mother is a widow (her father died recently at 39 years old). If this woman was not able to raise her fees to enter, she would have lost her place and would not have had a second chance to become a doctor. The community rallied to raise 2/3 of what she needed for her first year. The other 3rd was made up by the end of the day!

Two other teammates (Juli and Adele) and I shared as our highlight, a visit we made to Hannah. She is the woman we have written about who has a massive tumor in her face. The tumor is inoperable and has destroyed the bone in her face. On one of my visits to her, her husband handed me a small packet containing 3 teeth – they had fallen out as the tumor invaded her mouth more each week. Her eyes are being forced out and her nose is stretched so that seeing, talking, swallowing and even breathing are becoming more and more difficult. You can imagine the pain this tumor is causing her. I feel extremely inadequate in this situation. Morphine is a help, but truly all I can do is pray and be with her. Her family is doing an outstanding job of taking care of her. Though she is wasting as her body shuts down and she is too weak to move much in bed, she has not even a hint of a bed sore. Her daughters take time to massage her with Vaseline every day and her skin shines. Her hair is neat and her clothes and sheets are clean. More than this, her spirit is light. When she talks, she is thanking God for the life he has given her, for her children, for her home, for us her visitors! Praise God for the care and love Hannah is receiving from her family in these, her last days, and for the fact that God is enabling her to “finish her race” well.

The last two weeks have been full of other events as well. Last Friday, I went to the graduation of our 8th group of Traditional Birth Attendants. Most mothers in Kenya deliver their babies at home, under the supervision of an experienced woman from the community. Every week for the past 3 months, someone from the clinic has gone on Wednesday afternoon to teach these birth attendants some anatomy and physiology, what to do in obstetrical emergencies, when to refer, how to do prenatal care so you catch potential problems early, etc. Of 48 who started the program, only 23 made it to graduation. It’s an intense study and most of these women have never been to school before. We crammed in a tiny church as rain poured down on the tin roof and more onlookers huddled under umbrellas around the windows to recognize their accomplishment - a once-in-a-lifetime event for these mothers and grandmothers.

On Monday, I accidentally delivered a baby by myself. A mother of 6 came in at around 11am. Her water had broken the morning before and the baby was now in distress. His heart rate was low and there was meconium evident (in other words, the baby had had the poop scared out of him!) After we started an IV, Magan, the other nurse headed out to see other patients, warning that things can move really quickly for a woman who has had several other children. The woman was alone, so she had nobody but me to sit with her through the rest of her difficult, albeit short, labor. Suddenly she was pushing, ignoring my pleas to wait until she was dilated further. I yelled a few desperate, but (I hoped) confident-sounding calls for Magan as a very messy baby boy slipped into my arms. This prompted the mom to start yelling “Daktari!” (doctor!). I was waiting as long as I could to cut the cord since I was quite contaminated by a certain little someone who had been swimming in his meconium for awhile. I was also preoccupied with suctioning him out as soon as his mouth and nose appeared, while also dodging the mother’s hands, who in her state was not happy about this intrusion. Thankfully, Magan arrived just in time to do the honors. Mother and baby were doing well half an hour later when I left to take a shower, and she walked home later that same evening. Hopefully, I will see them again in a couple weeks when he comes for his immunizations and I am firmly in my comfort zone as far as mothers and babies are concerned.

ELI Anti-Alcohol: New intake at Ilula

One of the men who is now at Ilula for rehabilitation is called Wesley. Wesley comes from Kitale. When he came to us, his arm was in a cast from having fractured it during a drunk spell.

Along with the other men in the program, Wesley survived the first week well, when the participants are weaned from drugs and alcohol cold turkey. No meds. Just prayer.

During the second week of the program, the participants started going through the the twelve steps to freedom. Step 5 is called "Clearing the mess." During the particular session, Wesley confessed that he takes marijuana and still had some at home. He asked if some of the leaders could accompany him on a trip home to go and burn his stash.

When he arrived home with four men from ELI, Wesley's father could hardly believe his eyes. His wife could not control the tears of joy and thanked God continuously as the meeting went on. Wesley removed marijuana from various places where he had hidden it, including under the door mat and under the garbage heap.

Wesley is a new man! He is relaxed during the lessons, and takes the teachings very seriously.

We love seeing how God brings freedom and healing. Though the outward scars (and his cast) are still a reminder of a life he had lived, Wesley has a future ahead of him, walking in the freedom Christ had purchased for him.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

ELI Congo

From Davis and Jen's update after their recent trip to visit ELI Congo:

How do you describe Congo? The city of Bukavu is a perched on several steep hills at the south end of Lake Kivu. Its streets have disintegrated into a moonscape of potholes navigated by small cars smashing their under-carriages, the big SUVs of a dozen aid organizations, and fleets of military vehicles. The UN patrols the streets with truckloads of soldiers from Uruguay, Pakistan, China, and Indonesia, in Land Rovers with machine guns on turrets. The Congolese army is also in full force, rolling through the streets in their own trucks, with soldiers also making their presence known wherever people are gathered. You often see soldiers flying around the streets packed into their jeep-like Belgian army “bombardiers” with guns and Stinger missiles bristling out of the roll-cage.

Despite the constant reminders of war in this land, it was very peaceful. We never heard gunfire, or worried for our safety. The people were very engaging and friendly and we were able to communicate with them in Kiswahili quite effectively. The people are shorter than Kenyans and commonly wear tailored African clothing instead of the 2nd-hand clothing from the West so common in Kenya.

What was striking was the resilience of the people in a country that has seen the most deadly conflict since WWII. Besides the multiple rebel movements since Congo’s colonization and independence, Bukavu was most recently turned into a war zone when it was invaded by rebels in 2004. The city shows the marks of this instability. Besides the unreliability of the infrastructure—roads, electricity, water, etc. many government workers make use of their position to make their living, as their salaries often go unpaid. The result is that you can be asked for bribes every time you make any transaction with the government.

The other result is that businesses seem unwilling to invest significantly in any large scale business, so instead it is carried out by men on the street. We were surprised to buy fuel for the car in half-liter and one-liter water bottles. The price is negotiable. When we did go to a gas station, they did not have fuel. Money is also changed on the street by men with enormous stacks of Congolese Francs—notes so dirty and broken you are sometimes uncertain of the denomination.

The few stores carry shelves of liquors from all over the world to meet the demands of the city’s soldiers but very little variety in food. Milk is only available in dried form in cans, or in packages of long-life milk at a high price. One of the costs of war was the death of 3 million cows, making milk a luxury that is imported from Uganda.

Click here for some photos from the Congo.