Church in Togo

December 16, 2018

Eau de Vie Church

The invitation read  “Les femmes de l’eglise “Eau de Vie” de Kpotame vous invitent à prendre part à leur fête qui aura lieu le 04 Novembre 2018 à 08 heures précises.”  (The ladies of the “Water of Life” church invite you to partake in their celebration on the 4th of November at 8am sharp) My first invitation to attend church in Africa was from Akofa, the Penny family’s house-help.  On that Sunday morning, Christine (my good friend here on the compound) and I went together in our best African skirts to the church 3 miles up the road and down a really bumpy side street, which was more like a off-roading road than a street!   Chris informed me before we left that we needed to bring a gift to exchange with the ladies, so we each took an African handmade bag and put some money in it to give to Akofa. I had no idea what to expect but Chris mentioned it would most likely be a very long service and quiet loud, lots of singing and dancing, and the seats would be really uncomfortable…she was right on all three!

Upon arriving we were immediately created by Akofa and several other ladies.  We took a seat and instantly a little girl came and sat beside us, she looked no more than three years old.  Chris told me that it’s customary for the Togolese people to send one of their children to go sit with a newcomer so they don’t feel lonely or unwelcome.  Every lady that was part of the lady’s group wore their best white embroidered shirts and beautiful colored fabric skirts, and under each of their seats was a silver pot or some sort of gift.

 The service began with some hymns, accompanied by trumpet,  in French and in Ewe (pronounced eh-vay). Once the worship was over, the lead Pastor’s wife welcomed all the ladies and announced they would be starting the ladies service now.  First they were going to exchange gifts with the ladies whom they been praying for this past month or year, I lost that part in translation the other Pastor’s wife who was translating in French spoke so softly and wasn’t aloud to really finish speaking  before the other lady spoke again! But for however long they did pray for each other, they did so without the other lady knowing and would now be revealing who they had been praying for and give them a gift. I looked at the center of the church and saw that that would mean we may be here a while since there were at least 25-30 women sitting in the middle section of the church!!  Chris was right again church was going to be long…I hoped that my poor back would last that long sitting on these very hard pews! The first lady to go was the lead Pastor’s wife, she announced which “Madame”  she had been praying for and they all clapped and got really excited as the lady approached the front of the church dancing.  The ladies hugged and proceeded to sing and dance together.

This went on for an hour…meanwhile behind me sat four kids, three of  which had snuck in some glitter in a dried up tube of glue. They were sharing it amongst themselves and spreading it all over their hands and arms.  The youngest of them decided she was going to smear it across her face! I turned around to see what all the commotion was for, well she looked like a glitter raccoon.  The kids were frantically trying to remove the glitter off her face, but it was so humid and hot in the church that the sweat on her little face had stuck the glitter on pretty good!  I tapped Chris on the shoulder and motioned for her to look behind her. A few minutes later the little boy sitting next to her touched my arm, I turned around and he just looked at me like a deer in headlights…was I going to get mad or would what he had done be ok ?!  I just smiled and he had this look of relief on his face. The glittered girl decided she would do the same thing, this is a frequent thing amongst the children here they all want to touch the Yovo’s (white skin) skin, well her hands were entirely covered in glitter so she left a trail of it on my arm.  She thought that was so funny that she had to do it again. My arm was now green with glitter! This went on for about 10 minutes until I had an entire arm covered with glitter. Then she wanted to touch my hands too, so let’s just say this little game became quite popular and I was now the glittered Yovo!  

Getting glittered! 
Akofa dancing with and her gift 

   Once the gift exchange was over all the ladies danced in a circle with their gifts on their  heads, sang loudly, and marched out of the church. The pastor then did a mini sermon and Chris and I thought afterwards that meant the  service was now over, but we were wrong and Akofa met us at the door and said we needed to go back to our seats they had a couple songs they were going to sing soon.  So we begrudgingly went back to our seats. The ladies came back into the church walking in two lines up to the front of the church while singing. They sang three songs, which reminded me of the music from the movie “The Power of One”, and then marched back out of the church.  They were beautifully sung and made me want to go up and dance with them while worshiping the Lord. Once over we thought for sure this time it was over, but even if it wasn’t I couldn’t sit any longer in the pews my back was beginning to really bother me. I had been suffering from back pain then for over 6 week and sitting on hard surfaces triggered terrible pain across my lower back.  But as we walked towards our car Akofa came over and thanked us for our gifts and for coming but we couldn’t leave yet. She took us both by the arm and lead us down the road to a house, which we later learned was the Pastor’s. They brought out a couple chairs and a table, and now Chris and I were a bit confused as to what was going on. Akofa and several other ladies were going in and out of the house very quickly.   Akofa finally stopped long enough for us to ask her what was going on, well they were going to feed us lunch now! I couldn’t believe it what a truly awesome experience and blessing to partake in this meal. They served us some rice, which contained green beans and a red sauce in it, and beef which was a lot like beef jerky in texture and quite flavorful, and lastly a bottle of soda and told us to enjoy our meal. Akofa said that since we were leaving early and they had planned to feed the whole congregation that the pastor’s wife told them to go and rush home to feed us!  We both felt guilty for leaving early and touched that they went out of their way to include us in this meal. When we finished our meal Akofa showed us all the food they had prepared this morning since 4am! I have never seen so many pots of rice, 50 kg of rice was used to feed this congregation!!

Lunch 
So many pots of rice…there are more behind me…

   Church in Africa is long,  loud, and hot but it is also a beautiful thing to be a part of.  To be able to witness our brothers and sisters in Christ here in Togo worshiping and serving the Lord was pure joy.  For them to see us and take the time to make sure we were included in the meal, even though we had left early, was such a touching  gesture and one I will never forget.

Chris, Akofa, and Elizabeth 



A Day in Togo…

November 20, 2018

By Elizabeth Greenlee

The alarm goes off on Zach´s phone, but my body doesn’t want to wake up or get out of bed. I slowly open my eyes and can´t help but think…¨I´m in Africa!!¨ The sound of birds galore and a rooster, who thinks it is his job to announce what time of day it is at random intervals throughout the day, is how each day starts out here. The coffee pot, which is just as vital here to our survival as it is in California, starts to gurgle. The kids slowly wake up and make their breakfasts. Cereal and milk here are just not the same as back home, no matter how hard they try to close their eyes and pretend that it is. You can actually keep milk out of the fridge until opened. I’m not even kidding. We do have the option of making powdered milk, but none of us are really up for that taste bud adventure yet.

We all do an ant check of the floors and counters. Ants here are ferocious. They can take over quickly and in big numbers. And their bites hurt like the dickens! Once the perimeters have been secured, we reload the ant poison spots if needed and move on to the next chores. The water cooler needs to be changed, which means rinsing the big thing out and replacing the previously frozen water bottles used to chill our water for us with new ones from the freezer. We do this because we don’t have an ice maker and only two ice trays. This makes having cold drinks all day long a little less of a challenge…so we’ve Macgyver’d it and reuse milk bottles as ice jugs.

Once the water cooler is filled and the ice trays emptied and refilled, it´s on to figuring out the meals for the day and prepping accordingly. Mondays are usually bread making,fruit and veggie buying and washing, and laundry days. Actually, everyday is laundry day since it takes about 2 or 3 days to get laundry dried here during the rainy season.

Making bread from scratch has been a fun challenge as I try out recipes and see which ones work best in this EXTREMELY humid climate and with all the new kinds of flour and yeast they have here! I have experimented with the Irish Soda bread, which unfortunately came out looking like a blob that resembled Jabba the Hutt, it tasted more like biscuits than bread. Tried my hand at potato buns, but potatoes here don’t seem to cook all the way through no matter how long I cook them so they didn’t come out look anything like the picture or tasted like the ones we get back home but were good nonetheless. The most success I have had was with french bread and white bread. It seems to turn out the best and last the longest, but once it has sat out for 10 minutes the all powerful African Humidity has sucked out all crispiness from the crust…humidity is unlike any kind of humidity I have ever experienced!

It blows me away how humidity causes so many challenges here. For instance, humidity makes your salt clump up in the shaker to the point that you have to whack it like the Blue Oyster Cult striking a cow-bell. Out of convenience, we have resorted to putting it all in a tupperware. The glue that holds the green scrubby thing onto your duo-sponge for washing dishes falls apart after a few days in this climate. The spices need to be ¨de-clumpefied” with a knife so they too can shake out of the shaker. Every cereal, cracker, chip, cookie, pretzel bag once opened needs to be placed inside a ziplock bag or else it will become soft and gummy! Let’s not get into what the humidity does to our hair and skin.

On Mondays, at around noonish the Veggie lady comes to our compound to sell her produce. It saves us the crazy trip to the market on days when we don’t feel like experiencing the extreme chaos of the market or if we cannot make it to the market we won’t be without produce for the week. I take my large basket, my purse, and a notebook and pen which I use to write the items I purchase and their cost so I can come up with a total…she doesn’t have a cash register or scanner to keep track of this for me. Fruits and veggies here, are as Jerry Seinfeld says “ Fruit’s a gamble. I know that going in…” when you buy fruit you never know how long it will last, if it’s actually ripe, or if it will have critters crawling around in them! I have had my fair share of live beetles in my avocados, that each time I cut into one I’m afraid I will see the dancing legs of a beetle wiggling up in the air! The fruits and veggies available from the veggie lady are onions, beets, pineapples (long white fleshed ones that taste almost like candy), apples (tiny green ones imported from south africa), green peppers (small and not always available), eggs (which are sold in a plateau, which is a flat of 30 eggs for about $4-5 USD), cucumbers, zucchini (which is the biggest gamble since these tiny white worms seem to go crazy over zucchini), tomatoes (which are tiny, weird looking, and just don’t taste as flavorful), lettuce, cabbage, carrots, and potatoes. Once purchased all my produce is off to get washed. I fill two sinks with water and two capfuls of bleach for 20 minutes and then rinsed, chopped up, and stored in the fridge.

Once that’s done, off to laundry mountain I go! A single load of laundry can be a week-long process during the rainy season. Without a dryer the clothes dry inside on a rack or outside when the sun shows it’s face…but you have to be on your toes and ready to run outside to retrieve your laundry at a moment’s time! The washing machine takes a toll on your clothes. Underwear and shirts come out a bit crooked looking and get a little more threadbare with each wash, but c’est la vie en Afrique! The machine, once it is filled sounds like it’s a rocket ship about to blast off into space!

In the middle of all these chores, school is also in session at our dining room table. We start each morning all together and do a bible lesson followed by a French lesson, which I didn’t anticipate being this difficult! Once we have finished with these two Liam, Owen, and Maeve each start their grade appropriate lessons. The boys are pretty much self-sufficient and only need me when they don’t understand something. But Maeve will usually stay in the dining room and do her work while I bake or prep for all the meals for the day. Homeschooling for more than one child and three different grades has been a challenge, but after three months we have a groove going and it goes pretty smoothly for the most part. School starts at 9am so I can have my own bible reading time and enough time to prep for the day. Lunch break is around 12 and lasts until 2pm here. I have embraced this wonderful lunch break, especially on the extremely humid and hot days! Once lunch is eaten and all the many dishes are washed we finish up whatever school work we have left then it’s off to prep dinner. The thing I learned very quickly here is that you need to plan ahead early in the day what you want for your meals that day or else you will be eating spam and crackers for dinner…or in our case lots of backpacking meals, which were provided by our generous supporters! These have come in handy so many nights where the exhaustion has gotten the best of us all and we don’t feel like making a meal from scratch or washing tons of dishes!

Washing dishes three or four times a day has gotten old fast but has made us closer as a family. The kids take turns washing and drying the dishes, and have realized how much work it is to run a household here…and I think I will not have anyone complaining when I ask to fill or load the dishwasher when we return home. We learned on day one that you cannot leave dirty dishes on the counter or in the sink to wash another day because you will have a copious amount of bugs parading in the kitchen enjoying the feast you left behind for them. I swear these ants smell a crumb of food from a mile away!

This wild, crazy, and super hard experience so far has challenged all of us in so many ways. The days are long and this was just a little taste of what a “normal” day is like here. Some days are extremely long and hard while others go by so fast it’s hard to believe the day is gone. But each day God is working in us and strengthening us through these hard times. It has been an emotionally hard four months and some days I just want to pack up my bags and come home, but then something amazing will happen and God reminds me that I’m here to serve Him and to see his name glorified in the good and hard times. I’ve realized that i’m a lot stronger than I thought I was and that His promises to give us strength and be right by our side through it is the only way I have gotten through this time in Africa. Thank you for all your continued prayers, letters, packages, and emails it has helped us immensely through the hard times.


When we don’t even know that we can hope

November 5, 2018

Photo #1:

You might remember Frederick from some previous facebook posts. He is a local kid who has been unofficially adopted by the mission staff. He is 12-years-old and when I arrived in Togo 4 months ago, he still had both legs. In fact, he was walking, although not well. Just like most boys his age, he enjoyed playing soccer.Those kids off in the distance, they would have been his teammates if it weren’t for a bone infection.

Bone infections, called osteomyelitis are not unique to this part of the world, or to developing countries. They happen in the US too, but they often go untreated for prolonged periods of time here for a few reasons.

In Frederick’s case, it started like most cases of osteomyelitis do here, with a skin infection that was untreated, probably some innocuous looking break in the skin that got infected, then went to his bone. When it goes untreated for too long it becomes chronic osteomyelitis. Chronic osteomyelitis, to quote our Pediatrician here at the mission hospital, Russ Ebersole, is the bane of my existence. When Dr. Ebersole says this, which he has on more than one occasion, I can tell that he means it, because his upper lip gets tight an he practically spits the word osteomyeltis. I’m learning to feel the same way, because the stories too often end the same way. Months and months of trying to save a dying extremity, with painful daily dressing changes, dangerously high doses of antibiotics, all at a huge cost of the family, just because we are trying to avoid amputating the leg.

But then we end up waiting too long, the infection spreads, and instead of amputating a foot or ankle, we end up taking a knee or half a femur. Why do we wait too long? Because there are either no means to obtain prosthesis, or no knowledge that they exist.

Photo #2:

 

I don’t know her name. She doesn’t know mine. I just know her because she is my neighbor. Kind of. This young woman lives in the small mountain valley that our hospital shares with the hundreds of coffee sharecroppers that surround us.

I was walking to a nearby waterfall, admiring all of the ripe coffee beans (actually they are the bright red cherries that hide a green coffee bean inside) when we came across this lovely young lady quietly harvesting beans by hand. Christine Penny, a fellow medical missionary from Canada asked her if we could take a picture of her with her harvest. She proudly posed with her delicate harvest for a few photos.

We thanked her and began walking away. As I turned my back to her, she asked me something. Not speaking much of her language, I turned to Chris who said “I think she is asking if you have any candy.”

I shook my head know, but I pulled out a sweet green apple. Her eyes lit up. She gratefully accepted my gift and went back to picking. We walked a little up the trail to catch up with the rest of our hiking party, and my guide said to me, “That’s almost worth a days wages to her.”

The sad truth is that here in Togo, many coffee harvesters make less than $1 a day picking beans. They are vastly underpaid by any standard, and there are a complex set of reasons for this. However, direct- or even fair-trade, are not concepts that have probably even been mentioned to our local coffee harvesters.

The link

I’m not sure how, but somehow, I feel like these two stories are linked. I feel like if I can figure out how, I might be able to restore some hope for both of these gentle children who don’t even know what to hope for.

In the coming weeks, as I start investigating these two stories, and search for the convergence, I will be posting updates on this blog. Please join me and share this blog with others.

Get excited, get hopeful. If we can change the world for even these two people, it will be worth the effort.

Zach Greenlee


What can God do with a shoebox?

September 16, 2018

Da Bebe in her traditional pagna dress.

By Elizabeth Greenlee

With National Collections Week for Operation Christmas Child around the corner, I thought this would be the perfect time to share this beautiful story of how God’s love and gospel is being spread here in Togo through these shoeboxes!  I have been praying for so long for God to give me the opportunity to go on a distribution to see how these boxes are impacting people’s lives first hand or to see a distribution first hand while here in Togo.

Yesterday God answered my prayer in a way I hadn’t considered, He allowed me to meet this sweet Christian woman whose daughter received a shoebox about three years ago. Here is their story and a little gift for all those shoebox packers and volunteers with this ministry:

Today three missionary ladies, who are serving together with us at the hospital, and I went to Kpalime (pronounced Paleemay) a town about 35 minutes south of our hospital and mission station.  Saturdays are market days there, which means vendors come out and set up their booths full of fruits, vegetables, fabric (oh how I adore the fabric selection here!), tupperware,  pots and pans, clothes, school supplies, and so many things I’m not quite sure what they all are. They even sell knitted hats, which they do wear by the way. So if you ever worry about packing a winter hat in your shoebox, don’t. They actually get cold here and wear winter coats and hats!!

Shopping here takes a long time as you weave through long narrow streets and alleyways filled with vendors looking for the best looking fruit and veggies for the best price or any other supplies you might chance across. If you see it today you need to buy it today because it most likely won’t be there next week.  Between the crazy and sometimes noxious smells, loud noise, moto traffic coming in and out of the market streets, the hot sun and humidity, and constantly having to be on guard and aware of your surroundings, these market days can be physically and mentally exhausting! Despite all of chaos, it is still such a fun way to venture out into the community and meet so many different people, some who have come to the hospital before and are now a part of this amazing ministry here in Togo.

After a long day of trying to find all the supplies I needed for the week, we came across this tiny fabric booth that just caught my eye.  It had the sweetest flower-patterned fabric that I thought my seamstress could turn into an adorable little play dress for Maeve, who, by the way, needs more skirts than you’d expect since she plays so hard and gets them so dirty and stained in this red clay mud here. I wouldn’t have it any other way though. She is happy as a clam and enjoying her life here which does this mama’s heart good!

After purchasing a pagna of fabric (which is about 2 yards and costs roughly $3.50) my friend Christine looked over and got all excited and started speaking with the Togolese woman working at the fabric booth.  She introduced me to her and said “this woman has an incredible story I need to share with you!” After talking with this sweet woman with an incredibly contagious laugh and smile, I learned that her daughter had received a shoebox about 3 years ago!

I couldn’t believe it! God gave me a little gift here and an answer to my prayer!

Her name was Da Bebe and her daughter’s name is Sharon. Sharon is 13 years-old now, and had received a shoebox at the age of 10.  What makes this story particularly praiseworthy is that Da Bebe is a Christian woman who God is using in incredible ways to minister to the people in her community.

She runs a pregnancy crisis center for young moms and pregnant woman, all in the name of Jesus.

When she was pregnant with Sharon she had many complications due to diabetes and was eventually sent to our hospital up in Tsiko where she stayed for two months.  Sharon was born prematurely and, at under 2 pounds, was the smallest baby ever born in the hospital!  Sharon was named after the missionary nurse who still works here and teaches at a nursing school co-located with the hospital. Sharon, the nurse, had cared for the mother and baby over those scary couple of months in the hospital.

And here’s where OCC comes in. At the age of 10 Sharon received an Operation Christmas Child shoebox from her local church.  She told her mom she wanted to open it back home and share it with the neighborhood children.  So she gathered the local kids and did just that!  Afterwards Sharon started inviting children to come to her home and listen to bible stories.

Three years later what started as a small gathering turned into a large gathering of over 110 kids coming to play and hear God’s word!  It also gave root and new vigor to a children’s camp ministry there, which had been previously interrupted due to a lack Togolese teachers willing and able to run it! Hundreds of kids are coming to Christ every year as a result of the work that God did through a single shoe box and this miracle baby born at our own Hopital Baptiste Biblique! 


Preparations

June 12, 2018

I really am sorry for how long it has taken to update this blog. As you can imagine, we have been incredibly busy with preparations for the mission. So busy, in fact, that I woke up at 2 AM this morning and could not fall back asleep because I kept thinking about things I needed to get done this week. It’s not a very trusting attitude toward God, especially for a missionary, but that’s just one of my many many flaws… but I digress.

Oh, and why is the Africa song by Toto EVERYWHERE these days? What is that all about? I hate to admit that I have never liked that song, it has always reminded me of a dentist office and getting teeth drilled. I must have had some traumatic incident as a kid in a dentist office with that song playing in the background.

Well, as an update, we have quite a bit to accomplish before we depart for Africa on July 18th. We have found a renter. We have found free storage for most of our stuff, not everything, but close. We are still looking for a home for our dog and still haven’t been able to secure a years worth of malaria medication or funding to purchase them.

We still don’t know much about what we will be doing in Togo and are going in kind of blind. I can tell you what my personal preference is though… I want so badly to do Community Health Evangelism and Mobile Clinics. Forays into the rural villages to provide medical aid and investigate ways to address community health issues while also presenting the good news of Jesus resurrected is the kind of thing that makes me choke up with joy.

Here is a short story and description of what that looks like coming from the hospital we will be in from the vantage point of s short-term medical missionary (you can also read this story here and get some more detail into what Community Health Evangelism is):

I had the wonderful privilege of going to one of the off road villages (Kaduaso-Kope) about an hour from HBB.  The village is actually a collection of local farms with the village center being four thatch-roofed school buildings (a brick school is under construction).  There is no market in the village; no dispensary; no pharmacy.  People walk on a dirt road for about five miles for any type of health care – and for buying anything other than what they can grow themselves.

Pastor Lalabia (our chaplain) shared the gospel with all of the villagers who came for the clinic; Gnoyi (a nurse) taught on hypertension; nurses and nurse aides took blood pressures on approximately 230 individuals as they talked with each person individually about their need of a Savior and the peace and joy that only Jesus Christ can give!

We had the opportunity to evaluate children’s height, weight, and arm circumference.  The CHE team set up under a huge tree. Our innovative team members attached a tape measure to a long pole which was set upright against a tree for measuring height, and found a flat board on which to place the scales.  The pastor talked with the kids about how Jesus called the little children to Him.  He then had them line up – and the weighing/measuring began!  288 children later, the measuring was completed!  We will do some analysis of weight-for-age and weight-for-height,  and results will be reported to the village leaders with recommendations related to nutrition and other aspects of health.

I had the privilege of being involved in both ministries:  helping to set children on a contraption they had never seen before (the scales!), which was quite a scary experience for some!  Looking into the faces of moms who were so excited about having their children weighed and measured.  Estimating ages for children (probably only 10% of the children knew their ages; the rest had no idea how old they were)!   Applying a band of cut-up x-ray film, marked with green/yellow/red, around the upper arms of children – in order to evaluate nutritional status.  And also being involved as a nurse practitioner in treating hypertensive and dehydrated patients. Numerous times I told people that they should drink more – not ever thinking, of course, that I might want to consider specifying what they should drink!!  I did not realize until mid-afternoon that some of the villagers had a tchouk bar set up outside the school building where the mobile clinic was meeting.  Some enterprising villagers were taking the opportunity, as long as a crowd was gathered, to sell this locally-made alcoholic beverage!  I started smelling it on people as they came for treatment; saw some evidences in behavior as the day wore on!  Wouldn’t you know it:  the missionary nurse practitioner telling people to drink lots – 2 to 3 liters per day!  But not telling them what to drink (or what not to drink!).  I can imagine numerous villagers, downing the tchouk, while saying that the white missionary sent them!

We ended the day by visiting the chief of the village.  As we entered his compound, we saw a stick set up with the bones and feathers of two old, dry, dead chickens stuck on it.  It is a fetish that is used to ward off evil spirits from his compound.  How sad to realize that this chief – and probably close to 100% of these villagers – believe in such fetishes as the way to ensure protection and health!  Our prayer, our longing – is that God would show these people the wonderful love that He has for them, the fact that Jesus Christ died for them, and that they would realize the futility of trusting in a fetish – and would place their trust in the living God!  Pray, please, that Satan – who now controls these people – would be completely defeated and that God would build His church in this village!


UPDATE: The Big News

April 16, 2018

If you follow us on Facebook or receive our prayer letter update, you may have already heard the big news.

When we reached 85% funding, a big benchmark in missions fundraising, we are faced with a decision that has a sense of finality to it like few others in the process of mission field mobilization. It is time to finalize our date for leaving and purchase 5 one-way tickets to Togo.

Previously, we picked the date, more or less at random, of July 18th to depart. This date was arbitrary and used only to give us a deadline to raise funding. In reality, it would be beneficial to the hospital to leave sooner, but there is much that has to be done. We need the kids to finish their school year first, then We have to rent out our house, put our household items into storage, cancel services like power, cable, internet, sanitation. We also have to figure out who will take care of our finances and home while we are away and find a place for our dog to live for a year.

Mid-July seems feasible at this point still, but before we finalize this date, we need to make quite a few decisions, and ask that you be in prayer for us right now about these things. I’ll post a link to the prayer letter than went out yesterday with our specific prayer requests here.

Thank you again for all of your support, prayers and encouragement through this challenging season.

Zach


You are Plan A (and there is no Plan B)

April 7, 2018

Life moves too slowly for me these days. I recently read an article (you can see it for yourself here) about the five things that people who love change need to know. The principles it discusses rang so true to me, because I do need to slow down and accept that change sometimes takes time. I’ve always held that a sense of urgency in everything you do is a virtuous quality, that probably started in bootcamp. We used to chant, at the behest of our company commanders to you slower shipmates, “Shipmate! Move with a sense of urgency, Shipmate!” we all thought it was kind of funny and ridiculous at the time, but we all got the point. Urgency is deathly serious sometimes. In my world of surgery and emergency medicine, urgency is often what makes the difference between life and death, and it is hard to turn that off. This makes me a good fit for these medical disciplines.

One of the biggest problems with this mindset is that when others do not share my sense of urgency, I get impatient, and more often, discouraged.

My sense of urgency for getting into the mission field is founded in the fact that there is need. The hospital is a busy place. They need extra hands, extra minds, and extra hearts. While I feel needed and appreciated most of the time in my current role as the main OR’s only surgical PA at my hospital, I know that there are a thousand other qualified PAs to fill my position if I were to suddenly cease to exist. In Togo, we don’t see PAs clambering over each other to work in a 40-bed hospital deep in the West African interior.

I will go, though.

The need is great, and the workers are few (sound familiar?). I cannot sit idly by while a need exists that I can fill. I cannot rightly remain comfortable in my large suburban home knowing that I have not given everything to serve those who have the most need.

Ever sicne returnign from my first few weeks in Haiti in 2010, if I allow my mind to really consider my current circumstances, I am filled with frustration at my own mediocrity. I have more than I need, as most of us do. I would sell everything and live from my meager positions in a seabag if it were feasible to do this with a family of five.

I LOVE to share the good news about Jesus with people in relatable and meaningful ways. I love to see God work in the hearts of unbelievers to realize that their life has purpose and meaning, that they are loved not only by me, but ny God, their creator. I want to be the one giving every ounce of my strength to heal and palliate disease and suffering.

From the time that the Lord first pricked my heart to give my life to easing the suffering of others and spreading the gospel to a hurting world to now has seemed exponentially longer than I ever wanted it to be. At 18 years old, I spent a couple of weeks living and working with some missionaries in Honduras. I saw the utter selflessness and joy that they experienced from a lifetime of giving themselves to God’s work, humanitarian aid, and gospel witness, and I knew that this was the life that God had planned for me someday.

It took so long to come to this place. There were so many experiences and hard lessons that I had to learn first. But here we are, on the verge of a momentous breakthrough, and my heart thumps inside of my chest in anticipation. I know my purpose. I’ve found meaning. I am actively and persistently pursuing that to which I and my family have been called. It is time!

But the process takes so excrucitatingly long. July 2018 might as well be a lifetime away as far as my heart is concerned. And then to realize that due to not being totally funded by our projected date, I may have to push back that departure time a full month! Oh boy, does that make my blood pressure climb.

Thank you to those of you who have found your God-given place in this Great Commission. Thank you for realizing that this is not my mission or my family’s mission, but the mission of the church of Jesus. Thank you for your sense of urgency, and love for the lost and suffering people in other nations.

Thank you for praying for us, and please continue to do so. Seek God’s will for your life, the resources that He has given you, and live it out with passion and consistency. We, the church, are God’s “Plan A,” and there is no “Plan B.” His will cannot be thwarted, no matter how formidable to adversary.

We were the ones called to make disciples of all nations. We were the ones called to ease the suffering of the sick. We were the ones called to give to the poor. We were the ones called to give all that we have and folow Jesus. We were the ones called to go unto all the nations. You are part of this, part fo the body. Don’t underestimate the role that God might have you to play in the spread of His Kingdom.


Be Resilient – the struggle is real but the outcome is foretold. 6 principles of resilience.

April 4, 2018

Well, this has been a busy few weeks. Between working a crazy amount of hours, my course work (working toward Advanced PA degree to better serve my patients here and in Togo), teaching PA students, fund raising, and all of the hundreds of things that need to be taken care of before leaving for the mission field, busyness has given birth to a great deal of stress.

I don’t know if you have ever been so busy that you struggle to be productive, but that’s where we are at right now. If not for the amazing stamina and ability of Elizabeth, I’d probably be in a stress-induced coma right now. I’ve been barely able to get out of the bed in the morning, and when I come home, even finding the energy to take a shower seems a chore.

I’ve encountered this kind of busyness and stress a few other times in my life. I think back to when I was a paramedic, working four 12+ hour night shifts every week while managing a full-time load in college, or PA school where we would be in class 9 hours per day and have another 8 hours of studying to do after class while practically living off bread and water for a couple of years.

Just when you think you can’t fit anything else into your schedule, something else gets added.

During my hour or so commute into and home from work, I like to listen to audio books. They are a nice escape from the utter boredom and monotony of the drive. Some of the books I’ve been listening too lately have had a common theme, resilience.

One was about the resilience of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the resilience of soldiers in the second world war, the resilience of Paul in the face of Christian persecution in Rome, and the resilience of missionaries in Africa at the turn of the 20th century. These stories have been humbling, and encouraging. One recent podcast I heard asked the question, “What has happened to the gritty missionaries?” and gave examples like CT Studd, Jim Elliot, Rachel Saint, and Hudson Taylor (if you don’t know who these people are, I strongly suggest looking them up).

And then there was one more book written by a researcher on the psychological strategies of Navy SEALS who are successful with their arduous training. It gave some excellent principles of resiliency that we might all benefit from in the face of difficult times.

Here they are:

#1: You are responsible for absolutely everything

  • Stop Pointing the finger and trying to blame others. Realize that you and you alone are responsible for your own life. If you want to do something, do it. Take extreme ownership.

#2: He who has a why to live can bear almost any how

  • Pursue a mission. When you have a higher purpose – a mission – grit, self-discipline, perseverance, and incredible mental toughness is a natural consequence. So find your “why”.

#3: Create a mental trigger to get through the direst situations

  • Create a mental image – a “trigger” – of the one thing in this world that is most important to you. When you face the direst of situations or are on the brink, pull the trigger and remind yourself of this image.

#4: Systems, processes, and discipline equals freedom

  • Create a daily routine. Create systems and processes in your life so that you can get things done faster and more efficiently

#5: The 4 keys to mental toughness

  1. Set goals. Set bite-sized goals. Focus on what is right in front of you, not on all the pain and suffering yet to come. Create small goals that move you toward a larger goal – your mission, your “higher purpose”.
  2. Mentally prepare. Mentally visualize any tough situations you need to go through in order to train your mind to remain calm, cool, and collected during these stressful situations rather than going into it’s instinctive “fight, flight, or freeze” mode.
  3. Master self-talk. Talk to yourself positively. Create a powerful prayer, memorize a bible verse, or a short, encouraging statement of your own making to repeat to yourself in times of hardship.
  4. Arousal control. When in incredibly demanding and stressful situations, practice the 4×4 deep breathing technique (take a breath in for 4 seconds and out for four seconds). It will help to physiologically override your brain and body’s instinctive stress response and get your mind and body back in the game.

#6: The 3 components of resilience

  1. Have a mission. A higher purpose. The relates directly back to principle #2 – he who has a why can bear almost any how
  2. If applicable to your own life, use the power of teamwork to achieve specific goals.
  3. Reframe difficulty as growth. See failure, hardship, and pain not as something to be avoided but as something to be embraced as a way to develop oneself and grow.

#7: The 40% rule

  • When you feel like you’re done and can’t possibly do any more, realize that you’re still only at 40% mark. You’ve still got 60% left in the tank, so roll up those sleeves, grit those teeth, and push on.

 

To achieve goal, we must experience mistakes, stumbling, failure, and disappointment. In medicine, ministry, and life these are daily experiences. The resilient people get back to their feet, dust off their pants and, like Captain America, look that obstacle or failure in the eye and say “I can do this all day.”

Here are some Bible verses that have been helpful for me, and knowing the context of each as a source of inspiration is also helpful:

Joshua 1:9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

2 Timothy 1:7 For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.

Ephesians 6:10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.

Philippians 4:13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Micah 7:8 Do not gloat over me, my enemy!
Though I have fallen, I will rise.
Though I sit in darkness,
the Lord will be my light.

John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Romans 8:18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

Galatians 6:9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

Hebrews 10:36 You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.

2 Timothy 2:15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.

1 Corinthians 16:13 Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.

 

I’m preaching to myself right now, but in a world that seems increasingly hostile to those who stand firm in their faith, remember that we are not at war with mankind, but with principalities, and our strength comes from the Lord.

Psalm 28:7 The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me. My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.

 


QOTW #15: What kind of animals are in Togo?

March 25, 2018

Time for a fun question! What kinds of animals will we encounter?

I need to talk to some of the folks already at the hospital to find out what they encounter regularly, but I’ve done a little research and have discovered some pleasant surprises (and a few not-so-pleasant ones).

This is not an exhaustive list. I’m just picking some of the highlites with the guidance of my daughter.

Mammals of Togo… these just make me happy!

The Western Tree Hyrax

The African Bush Elephant

The potto

Bush babies (oh my gosh, I’m dying…)

Erythrocebus-es??

Patas monkey

Tantalus monkeys

Mona Monkeys

Diana Monkey

Olive baboon

King Colobus

Common chimpanzee

Africa brush-tailed porcupine

Forest Giant squirrel

Four-toed hedgehog

Rufous mouse-eared bat

Yellow-winged bat

Giant pangolin

Long-tailed pangolin

Tree pangolin

Northwest African Cheetah (Maeve’s favorite animal in “the whole wide world!”)

Caracal

Serval

West Africa Lion

African leopard

Rusty-spotted genet

We just finished reading Riki-Tiki-Tavi together so these mongoose species are also among her favorites

Slender mongoose

Egyptian mongoose

Spotted hyena

HONEY BADGER!!!

Striped polecat

Pumba! (warthog)

Red river hog

Hippos

Hartebeest

Red-footed gazelle

Bongo

Maxwell’s duiker

Waterbuck

Bohor reedbuck

Now for the reptiles

Bell’s hinge-back tortoise

Common agama

spotted house gecko

Fat tail gecko

Fire skink

Savannah monitor

African rock python

Ball python

Centipede eater

Striped house-snake

Rhinoceros viper

Western green mamba

Black-necked spitting cobra

Slende-nosed crocodile

Insects

ghost mantis

there is a seemingly infinite number of species of butterflies in Togo as well


QOTW #14: Why Medical Missions?

March 6, 2018

Vincent van Gogh’s painting ‘The Good Samaritan’

There are innumerable resources available, especially in recent years, on missions. Missiological studies, missionary profiles, research on unreached people groups, the impact (both good and bad) of missions on the populations they have gone to serve and disciple.

But, you would be hard pressed to find much written on medical missions. Traditionally, medical work has been seen as a recent add-on to mission.

In fact, Medical Missions, as we know them have only been around since the 19th century. But, I believe that medical mission has always been part of the ministry of the church.

First, the Bible is clear that sickness is not a purely naturalistic matter. Jesus interlinked preaching and healing throughout his ministry. Some examples are found in Matthew 8:16, 9:35, 12:10, 12:15, 14:14, 14:36, 15:30, 19:2, 21:14, Luke 4:40, 5:15, 5:17, 6:18, 9:11.

The story that stands out most to me is the parable of the Good Samaritan, who, when religious leaders passed by a man who had been beaten and robbed, a lowly Samaritan loaded the man on his donkey, took the man to an inn and payed for him to remain there until he was healed.

There are many examples of how interlinked ministry and healing are throughout the new and old testament. So if ministry and healing were so interlinked in Jesus’ ministry, then there must be an element of healing that is important for the purposes of reaching people with the gospel.

Often you will hear of medical mission as being the “tip of the spear” in world missions. I believe that this is for two reasons, first, medical care is a global need. There are doors that a medical professional can enter that a pastor may not be able to, this allows Jesus-following medical professionals to sometimes be the pioneer missionaries to a region. The second reason I think the analogy of the spear works is that seeing to the physical needs of a person pierces to the heart of their need. Physical maladies aside, the real true healing we need can only come from the promises of the gospel.

Medicine may provide the life-saving so that the person with receptive to the soul-saving.