QOTW #5: How can I make a global impact from home?

December 9, 2017

Question of the week #5: How can I make a global impact from home?

It seems like there are a lot of people who look around themselves and at the state of the world and sincerely wish they could make a difference in it. We have been fatigued by the 24-hour news cycle, and can’t seem to muster the emotion to have compassion for every worthwhile cause. Social media blasts us daily with a new reason to mourn, something else to pour ourselves into, a new issue to protest, and yet another egregious act of immorality to be angry about. Social justice has become a religion in its own right, and our hearts are earnest in the desire to make lasting change.

But we are exhausted, right?

I remember a time in my life when I was constantly involved in some sort of outreach to marginalized and suffering people. That was seriously one of the happiest times of my life. And I shamelessly reveled in the “goodness spotlight” that was shined on me for my efforts. Then I went to PA school. Life has changed dramatically in that time. I had a debilitating spinal injury that had me periodically paralyzed and left a lasting handicap (although, thankfully, the only thing that I can’t do is run and jump. Since I was never a basketball player anyway, I suppose I can deal with that). My job requires a much greater percentage of my time than any previous position. I am again in graduate school. My kids are getting older and with greater age comes exponential increases in busyness.

But, if you are like me and millions of others in similar positions where they are overwhelmed by the state of the world, want to make a lasting change, but lack either the time or resources, there is still an answer, and it isn’t necessarily packing up your family to work in a West African hospital.

The Happiest Time of Your Life

Think back to a time when your heart just beat more palpably. Try to really remember a time that you were excited to wake up every morning and take on, with vigor, whatever the Lord had in store for you.

Now, try to recall, who were the people in your life at the time?

Let me explain the reason for this question.

For 4 years I was involved in a homeless outreach with a dear friend of mine, Michael. I was working the night shift as a paramedic in Stockton and going to school during the day. Stress levels were high because there were a lot of demands on my time. But every Sunday, Michael and I would head down to a park early in the morning with probably 3 gallons of hot coffee biscuits and breakfast sausages. We would sit at the picnic tables by the river, or set up some lawn chairs, and sit and talk with several men and women who became our friends over time. Granted, many of our unhoused friends were strung out on drugs, ex-convicts, on probation, and mentally ill, but we really cared about each other and became a community like the Island of Misfit Toys from that one Christmas movie.

We saw to each other’s needs. Someone would always start a warming fire in the colder months. Someone would voice a need for socks, a sleeping bag, a new shirt, a few extra dollars to get some sinus medicine (or sometimes to buy cigarettes, which, yes, sometimes we would even help with that… I know, FOR SHAME!). But we were a community, albeit an odd-looking one. These were the least judgmental people I had ever had the honor of befriending. I can’t even begin to describe how many times these men and women ministered to me in my stress. God was present in our Sunday morning meetings in a profound way.

That was, until another church showed up. It started with them just setting up a microphone and bringing some guitars for a morning worship service about the time that Michael and I would wrapping up. But our group of 15-20 people initially resisted this “Church in the Park” to stay with us. But over time, this church started showing up earlier and earlier to set up shop for the service, because their set-up became more and more sophisticated with tents and even a stage. Before we knew it, we were being pushed out. And I have often wondered if their efforts to bring their favorite flavor of truly awesome worship music, excellent preaching and all the extravagancies of American Churchianity was actually accomplishing what they hoped it would accomplish.

The Value of the Local Community

I can think of another time when my heart was so full of love and passion for life and especially on fire for the Cause of Christ was as a member of a small community of other families like ours where we met weekly and talked, prayed, read the Bible and generally enjoyed each others company. That group was ended far too soon. And we never quite were able to recreate those intentional connections.

On Friday evenings, Elizabeth and I open up our home for these intentional relationships. Honestly, its hard because everyone we know is so busy, but we have some consistency in who comes. And, my goodness, are our conversations deep sometimes. Sometimes the topics are light, and filled with laughter to the point of tears as many of us come from different walks of life and have a lot of fun exploring cultural differences and similarities. There are children everywhere. It can be loud and distracting, but, come one, they’re kids, right? We center our conversations around the gospel, and the joy that fills our home on these Friday nights is palpable. Even in times of sorrow, joy permeates our interactions.

Local Community, Global Impact

So how does this all relate to having a global impact?

I think it’s all about a fractured and disconnected society. Seriously, google the term “social media effects on society” and you will find article after article about the negative effects of the medium on community. When we supplant real intentional interaction with a digital, disconnected version, we are short changing ourselves. We are not having the impact that we really desire, in spite of our sharing of links for causes and outrage over immorality. This isn’t to say that I believe that there is anything wrong with use of social media for that purpose, but I want to propose something much better.

Regular intentional meeting with small groups of people, even up to 15-20 if there is some regularity to the meeting, creates significant societal bonds. Those bonds are like carbon-fiber matrices, they strengthen the individual by strengthening the group. A single person, despite all of the inspirational quotes you hear and read, rarely makes a large, lasting-impact on the world. However, a community of people with a shared vision does, especially when the gospel is at the center.

Matthew 18:19-20 (yes, I am removing it from it’s context a little here, but bear with me, this is not eisegetical): 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.

There is power in community, more so than there is with the lone wolf. This isn’t about having a discipleship group, community group or whatever your church calls it, that last for the duration of a 8 week topical Bible study. This is about meeting regularly for meaningful fellowship with fellow believers around the promises of the gospel, and centered on Christ.

The Lasting Impact May Not Be What You Are Expecting

The dangerous thing that happens here is that our dogmas are challenged. We are forced to look at things from different perspectives. We are stretched and our hearts may find some rust getting shaken off as we become sensitive to the plight of our neighbor, who is probably going through some seriously challenging things that you never realized. You will be shocked that your fellow believers struggle with some of things that they do. You will find yourself being more honest than you’ve ever been in your entire life, with yourself and with others.

As these bonds are fortified in prayer and love, people sometimes notice that their previously unacknowledged self-centeredness is shed away, piece by painful piece, and their hope for the world actually becomes something besides a dismal entropic outlook. And many people find themselves plotting ways to improve the world, in ways that require faith, and that very few would attempt without having a community of fellow world-changers with linked arms holding them up.

It is such a beautiful thing. And you and I both need it.

Please, consider joined Elizabeth and I on Friday evenings for our get togethers. Bring your kids. Don’t worry about showing up on time. And don’t plan on going home early. You won’t want to.

 

 


QOTW#4: What are you going to be doing over in Togo?

December 4, 2017

This is the team of surgeons, nurses, doctors, nurses, anesthesiologists, and others that I traveled with to the Northwest Haiti Christian Mission in January of 2017. As you can tell, the surgical environment looks a little different in other countries like Haiti.

I have been uniquely trained as a PA. Not just to be a PA, but with a specific set of skills that lend themselves well to the mission hospital. It started several years ago as a paramedic working in the urban environment of Stockton, CA. As a busy paramedic, working consistently among a very underserved population, I gained experience and insight into the unique medical problems and circumstances that arise when people have limited access to medical care. I was able to leverage that experience to find a purpose working in Haiti several times starting in 2010, shortly after the earthquake that rocked the country.

Working in makeshift clinics in the rural environment of Eastern Haiti, I gained not only clinical experience in dealing with the harsh conditions and poverty that lead to unique health conditions, but also insight into how to function as a health care provider in an austere environment.

Shortly after graduating from the Stanford University PA program, I worked in a few different positions, including emergency care, family practice and a general surgery practice to providentially finding myself at St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Stockton in a unique role for a PA. I was initially hired to primarily be a first assist for multiple surgical specialties, gaining experience in general/abdominal surgery, orthopedic surgery, neuro surgery, gynecologic surgery and even some trauma.

Over the following two years, this role evolved to include leading team of fellow healthcare providers to accomplish quality measures, which is hospital-speak for projects to improve a specific area of patient care. The hospital eventually sent me to an ultrasound procedure course to learn not only how to use an ultrasound, but how to capitalize on the convenience of these systems to do otherwise risky procedures that helped certain groups of patients avoid the risks inherent with having to do the same procedure under general anesthesia.

All of these experiences and additional training have been part of what can only be described as God’s plan to provide me with needed knowledge and skills to work in a mission hospital. While I still have much to learn about operating in Africa, I bring with me a skill set and knowledge that will make that transition into such a hospital a much more fluid one.

The role of the PA in these settings is highly variable and may change through time. I expect to be operating and assisting with surgeries, seeing patients admitted to the hospital, and working in the ER. In a hospital, like the one I’m going to in Togo, there are a few fulltime career missionary surgeons who have little time for anything besides surgery, and still may have to turn away patients due to the light staffing so inherent in these environments. I will free up valuable time and will hopefully prevent patients who could otherwise be turned away, from not having potentially life-saving surgeries.

This will open up opportunities for gospel witness that might have otherwise not occurred and allow for families in the mission to have access to their moms and dads who are worked so hard and with so many hours to be able to leave the hospital for a time, knowing that there is another qualified health care provider available to care for people during their needed periods of respite.

Please pray for the staff already there and for me to be prepared for the arrival of my family, for wisdom and that I gain the needed knowledge to be a source of relief and that through this many more people will be healed and might enjoy the joy and hope of knowing Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.


QOTW#3: What are you doing about the kids and their education?

November 25, 2017

 

What are you doing about the kids and their education?

This was one of the first questions we asked ourselves too. Short answer: we will homeschool them.

Liam (14) will be in his sophomore year of high school. We are still sorting through the hundreds of different curriculums for him right now, and Elizabeth is waiting for some input from his current high school, which has a number of recommended curriculums for embedded missionaries. There are also quite a few teachers at his school who have prior experience in education of missionary kids. We have a great support network for him, and his school is very supportive of this experience.

Owen (11) and Maeve (7) will be doing charter school curriculum through a school that Liam attended junior high at.

So Elizabeth will be a busy lady, teaching our kids along with teaching me French (which is no small challenge).

Keep those questions coming!

Cheers!

Zach and the rest of the Greenlee family


What Are You Thankful For?

November 22, 2017

It feels so cliche to ask this question this time of year. It even seems boring to talk about gratitude when we are so busy, almost too busy, this time of year to even stop and think about what it is that we are grateful for. For the first few years that I was doing the annual medical mission trip to Haiti, I was leaving the day after Thanksgiving, travelling through Miami and into Port-au-Prince. It was such a warm, comforting time of year and the season of gratitude had a lot to do with that feeling.

But when I would return, the last thing I would be thinking about is what I was grateful for. I would actually feel aghast when someone would say something like “it really makes you feel grateful to be and American.” When you are in an environment like the one in this picture, where patients are queued up for hours, hoping to have their medical concerns addressed by visiting doctors and PAs who came only once a year in an open air clinic, gratitude is not the prevailing feeling you experience.

My heart was not warmed, at the time, by the fact that I was going home to an insulated, climate-controlled home with a comfortable mattress and wood floors. But there was a sort of feeling of conviction there, that I had received so much in my life,  yet had given so little. This is not meant to shame anyone into giving, that would be the wrong reason to give anyway, but in this season of gratitude and giving, I prefer to take time to consider if my gratitude promotes an attitude toward giving to those with unmet needs.

This Thanksgiving, I hope we all find an opportunity to stop and consider what we have to be thankful for, and then extend that opportunity to thank God for everything that has shaped our lives, the good and the bad, and the lives of those around us. But let’s not stop there. Having an opportunity to positively impact the lives of strangers, maybe even those in a foreign land, is perhaps one of the greatest parts of being so materially wealthy in this country. I want to humbly suggest that we set out to look for ways that we can selflessly give, just because it is a blessing to bless others.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Here’s a short Bible study on the link between gratitude and generosity that you may enjoy doing on your own or with some family this weekend.

10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

12 This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 13 Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. 14 And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. 15 Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:10-15, NIV)

Questions to answer (for the adult):

  1. Who is the “person” giving the food and seed to the sower?
  2. How does the blessing of the harvest provoke the receivers of the harvest to be more generous?
  3. How does our generosity toward others indicate a grateful heart toward God?
  4. What other biblical examples can you think of where gratitude and generosity are linked?

Questions to answer (for the kid):

  1. What’s the best gift you ever received?
  2. How does it make you feel when people give you something you need?
  3. How does it make you feel when you give things to others that they really needed?
  4. How does helping others show God that we are grateful for what He has given to us?

Question Of The Week #2: What are you guys doing with your house?

November 20, 2017

QOTW#2

What are you guys going to do with your house?

 

Sorry about the late update, it was a busy weekend for the Greenlee family.

We built a chicken run for the chickens that Liam is supposed to be raising for his FFA project. Which is kind of complicated considering that we plan to be leaving in July 2018. So that kind of leads into the question, what are we going to do with our house while we are away for a year? Anyone want some chickens next summer? 🙂

We plan to rent it out for a year, for a good price too, if you’re interested. We would love to rent to someone we know if possible. The actually more complicated question would be, what are we going to do with all of our stuff while we are away?

Ideally, we could just leave it all in the house, but in reality, we will probably have to find some storage for our belongings, unless you know someone who is looking to rent a furnished home for a year.

So two requests we have for our partners in this medical mission (all of you!): If you know of anyone looking to rent a house, furnished or unfurnished, and/or if you know anyone who might be able to help store our household items in a safe, dry, preferably rodent-free place, we would be extremely appreciative.

Thanks for reading. Keep those questions coming!

 

Have a happy Thanksgiving!

The Greenlee family.


Question Of The Week #1

November 10, 2017

I get asked a lot of questions when I mention our mission to Togo. Some of them are common, some, not so common, but still very good questions. Since there are so many friends and family that I don’t get to see regularly enough to answer all of their questions, I am going to try to answer one question per week. If you have a burning question that you’d like me to answer here, please feel free to email me, send me a message on Facebook or post it on our Facebook page.

The first question I’m going to answer today is, “How long will you be gone?”

The answer is 1 year. So, if you’re the type who loves brevity, you can just click out of this blog right now, but there is a little backstory to why this question actually has some built in complexity.

6 months ago, we were sitting down at a restaurant with a surgeon who had worked for more than 2 decades in Togo at the hospital we will be in. We suggested that we were thinking of leaving in 2 years and staying there for 2 years. He suggested, that we shorten the wait to 1 year, and plan to stay for 1 year. While I not-so-secretly hope that someday we will just pack it all up and just plan to stay at a mission hospital for the rest of my career, currently, the idea is that we do at least one of these “short-term” trips for 1-2 years.

1 year away is a much easier pill to swallow for everyone, and it’s much less daunting to ask friends and family to help financially support a 1 year term. There’s a foreseeable end, and it’s an easier chunk of time to bite into.

It’s good to hear from my friends and family, and I really appreciate the questions. Keep ‘em coming!


Here we go!

November 6, 2017

Thanks for stopping by our mission blog!

For years we’ve been talking about it. The time has finally come!

We are in the fund raising stage of the process. We have a clear picture of how much financial support needs to be raised in order to go, about $6,000 per month. It sounds daunting, and it is. We need your help. We need your prayers and we need you to invest with us in this important vision as we humbly pursue this calling that God has placed on our hearts to not only provide medical care to those in the Tsiko, Togo region, but also to build Christ-honoring relationships with the diverse people groups in the region of the hospital.

We will be departing for Togo on July 18th, 2018. But there is still so much to do, it’s almost overwhelming.

This will be your place to learn about what we will be doing, our progress in getting there, get updates while we are in Togo, and a regular taste for our vision to reach the medically under-served with life-saving medical care and the life-changing gospel message.

We will be spending most of our year at the Hôpital Baptiste Biblique in Tsiko, Togo.

One of the first questions we get asked is “are you taking your kids?” Yes we are all going.

The other first question we are frequently asked is “Where is Togo?” So here are a couple maps:

It’s that little green country in West Africa. And that’s their flag in the corner.

And that’s Tsiko, where the hospital is. It’s about 3 hours East by land from Lome, Togo, the capital.

I will do my best to compile as many of our frequently asked questions into a large FAQ file to help you gain your bearings about our mission, vision, and living situation while we are there.

I have a question for the readers to please answer in the comments section too.

Have you ever been to Africa? What do you know about the region we will be visiting?

And one quick trivia question about the country, hopefully you can find the answer with a little research. What is the primary Language spoken in Togo? Why?


Going

May 23, 2017

IT was about 11 years ago, I was sitting in our cramped little 2 bedroom duplex in Riverbank, CA studying for an upcoming exam. I had recently been hired by the Modesto Fire Department and was just beginning my year of probation. At some point, I decided to retire from my binder of collected technical specifications on engine apparatus and fire fighting tools to my Bible, that I hadn’t picked up in a few weeks.

Elizabeth and me on my third trip to Haiti. This was my first trip as a PA in 2015

I wasn’t in a church at the time, we had only recently moved back to California from Washington where I had been stationed at a Coast Guard Air Station. I missed reading my Bible and had neglected it for too long, and something in my heart was urging me to pick it up and continue where I had recently left off in my study on the gospels. And then I landed on John 14:27 where Jesus tells his disciples before the coming calamity surrounding his crucifixion that they are not expecting, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid (ESV).”

This verse was not new to me. I had read it and even turned to this promise in times of trial before in my life, but somehow I knew I was about to need this promised peace. Six months later, this premonition came to fruition when I was let go from the fire department after failing to correctly perform a task in my final probationary exam. That was it, that was the end of that dream. Something I had spent the last few years of my young adult life working toward. I had landed a good paying career in a stable environment in my hometown. We had just had our second son and were getting ready to buy a home, then it was gone. But God had placed a different dream in my heart about a month before this otherwise devastating failure.

In a separate Bible study, I was reading about the Great Commission (Matt 28:16-20). I had toyed with the idea of being a missionary when I was an idealistic teenager, and had since decided that any notion of being a full-time missionary was idealistic and jettisoned it years before this evening. But something happened in my chest, literally. I read this passage from Matthew and my heart started thumping like I’d had a shot of adrenaline (something I had learned to love years before this encounter). I looked around the dimly lit dining room anxiously as I began to these images, like a slide show, flash in front of me. I can remember vividly two of these images. One, I was holding a baby of African decent while holding a stethoscope to his mother’s chest. I was dressed in scrubs and my setting was apparently a rural tropical one. The other image was from behind me, kneeling on a dirt floor in a dimly lit building, leaning against a long bench praying with another person of apparently African decent wearing traditional Muslim clothes. In this image, I also was wearing scrubs.

Being a firefighter who wore boots and a uniform to work everyday, these images were way outside the context of my current environment. When this experience was over, and it lasted maybe only 2 or 3 seconds, I tried to explain it to my wife, Elizabeth, but couldn’t find the words. I tried to explain it to my pastor, but he tried to convince me otherwise. I tried to tell my parents, but both of them were probably over-accustomed to my frequent flights of idealism and excitement over new ideas an possibilities and understandably withheld their excitement. This was 11 years ago.

Since then, I’ve actually seen one of these two images played out more than once in my life. I went to Haiti shortly after the 2010 earthquake, thinking that I would be doing earthquake relief and maybe some clean-up labor. Little did I know at that I would see one of these images come true. I was accompanying Dr. Jack Sorg, a surgeon with ABWE who was leading this trip. At the time, I was a paramedic, and had been working as one on an ambulance in Stockton, California since losing my job with the Modesto Fire Department. In the 4 years that I had been working as a paramedic, I had learned a lot about medicine and had even started going back to college to finish a degree so that I could start going to Physician Assistant school. But nothing I had done as a paramedic prepared me for what I’d be doing in Haiti.

 

 

Unbeknownst to me, I had signed up to work with a small team of missionaries traveling into the rugged mountains of Haiti and rendering medical care to the rural villages and praying with, and sharing the gospel with whomever would listen. Within a few days, we were scheduled for a long journey up into a distant village accessible only by small all terrain vehicles and mules, but our physician, Dr. Sorg, would be detained with an urgent need in the Hospital in Fermathe. He knew about this the night before and handed me a handbook on clinical care for people in austere environments and told me that I’d be seeing patients in the clinic the next day.

I don’t think I slept a wink that night. I stayed up studying that handbook from cover to cover, doing my best to memorize our formulary list, understand contraindications and potential side effects of our medications, relearn assessment skills and so on. The next day, with shaky hands and an eye toward heaven, I arrived in the late morning to see this line of patient extending on to what seemed like forever that we were hoping to see  during our 7 hour clinic day (we were cut short by impending darkness and the long journey home). The experience was amazing, and throughout the day, I repeated the words of John 14:27 over and over, and God granted me the peace necessary to pull off this task that was far outside my comfort zone and that I was ill-equipped for.

Taking a few minutes with my translator (Johnny) to eat a peanut butter and sandwich between patients

A line of people had formed before we even arrived at the clinic that morning.

I’ve been back to Haiti three other times since then, the last two times as a Physician Assistant. Each time I go, I am stretched a little more to develop further skills, increase my knowledge and even more so, to rely on God.

Elizabeth and I now are embarking (along with our three children) on a new  journey that will take us to the other end of the globe, far from everything that is familiar to us that will surely stretch us and lead to us to look for this peace that Jesus talks about. The compulsion is simple, we have been given a commission to disciple and care for the physical, mental and spiritual health of a vastly under-served population in the Western African country of Togo, and you are about to begin this journey with us.

Please be in prayer over the coming months as we prepare to leave in June 2018 on this amazing, sometimes terrifying, journey of obedience and faith to our Lord Jesus Christ.