Archive for the ‘suffering’ Category

I’ve been to a lot of places during my ministry travels–mostly to villages–but I’ve never been to a slum. I hate to even use that term, but I looked up the definition and it certainly fits the area we visited in the Mathare valley.

Slum: (noun) A heavily populated urban neighborhood characterized by substandard housing and squalor.

The Mathare slum is home to about 800,000 people, all crammed within an area less that 1.5 square miles. The housing consists of rows of ramshackle shacks, absorbing the African heat through their corrugated tin roofs. The average wage is less than two dollars a day, with most of the work force comprised of single moms.

As for squalor, before we embarked on our first visit of the slum, our guide gave us this warning:

“There are few latrines, so some folks have taken to relieving themselves in plastic grocery bags, then tossing them through the windows. So be careful where you step and watch for flying toilets . . .”

So we trod carefully, following several social workers from Missions of Hope as they took us through the neighborhood they serve. There were people everywhere, milling about, making lunch, selling random wares. Chickens and ducks darted in and out of doorways and kids played in the streets with creative, homemade toys (two little guys had made a sled out of a garbage can lid).


I quickly forgot about the “squalor” and became absorbed in the souls who lived there. Instead of the despair I’d expected to encounter; I sensed the ebb and flow of an often difficult, but always communal, life. And I also felt a rising tide of hope.


That hope comes through the increasing knowledge of Christ, which is being imparted to the children via the schools built in several Mathare communities by Missions of Hope.

We got to visit one of the schools later that day. We walked into a classroom of about 20 children, all in P4 (our 5th grade, I think). The students rose and greeted us, then asked us a few questions: “What is your favorite food?” “What is your favorite color?” “Do you love Jesus?”

Then the class sang us a song that just made my day. I wish I could recall all the lyrics, but the song basically stated that without Jesus, everything else we accomplish is in vain. We can be doctors and lawyers and wealthy and strong–but if we don’t put Jesus first, we’ve not really accomplished anything.

I love that while these little ones are being educated, they are also being taught about the love of Christ. And as their lives are transformed from the inside out, these children take that love and peace back home with them, where their families and neighbors feel His presence, too. How awesome that community transformation is starting with these little ones!


As I mentioned earlier, many of the women in the Mathare Valley are raising their children alone. Besides educating the kids, Missions of Hope provides job training for the moms–we visited a sewing class, a jewelry shop and a beauty salon. These are all services the women can provide from their homes or communities. To help fund these small businesses, Missions of Hope recently started a micro-loan program called Big Dent.


In my next post, I will write about a unique ministry offered by Missions of Hope–and outreach to families with disabled children. Of all the experiences I had in Africa, one brief encounter I had in the Mathare slum is permanently etched in my heart . . .


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I always enjoy Portland’s annual mission conference and this year’s event was no exception.  I was excited to hear Brian Fikkert, the author of “When Helping Hurts,” address the complex issue of poverty alleviation.

He did not disappoint.

Fikkert likened the West’s method of helping the poor to a doctor who misdiagnoses his patient.  If the cause of the illness is misunderstood, then the prescribed medicine will cause harm–no matter how well-intentioned the doctor might be.

Fikkert believes that most westerners have misdiagnosed the cause of poverty.  We think it comes from a lack of material goods, so our “cure” is to pour capital and technology into impoverished areas.  But still the sickness spreads.

The World Bank surveyed poor people around the world a few years ago, and asked how they would define poverty.  While many made reference to their lack of resources, most described poverty in emotional terms:  a state of helplessness, feelings of shame and inferiority, a lack of options.

Fikkert believes poverty is caused by broken relationships–with God, others, ourselves and creation.  There are plenty of resources to go around this planet, but because we are broken, we ignore God’s principles of stewardship and hoard and misuse what we’ve been given.

In his book, Fikkert develops the topic of transformational development–which is essentially a strategy to reconcile people to God, each other, themselves and creation.  It is a holistic approach to sharing the gospel and emphasizes that Christ is the creator, sustainer and restorer of all things.

But even with this holistic approach, poverty alleviation is complicated.  I loved the example Fikkert gave from Acts 14; where Barnabas and Paul come across the crippled beggar.  They didn’t give him a hand out; they gave him a hand up and pointed him in the direction of the One who could supply all of his needs.

I know I’m not quoting him properly, but Fikkert said that if we want to help the beggars, we must become beggars ourselves, reaching out our hands to lay hold of what only God provides.  We need to acknowledge our own brokeness as we come along side the poor and needy, and reach out together to Jehovah Jireh.

How this would look, practically speaking, I have no clue.  But I love the concept of a band of beggars approaching the throne of grace together, hands raised to receive His grace!

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I have never been to Sudan–but I have such a compulsion to pray for the country these days.  It is my son-in-law’s homeland . . . and my unborn grandbaby has Sudanese blood coursing through his veins.

Tomorrow begins a vote that will decide the country’s destiny–will the Christian south secede from the Muslim north or will Africa’s largest country stay united?  This article accurately sums up what is at stake in this election.  Two weeks ago, a prayer ministry for Sudan posted this informative bulletin.

Steven is heading to Seattle tomorrow to cast his vote.  I assumed he would vote for the South to secede, but he told me he was voting for unity.  Steven fears that, if the South secedes, the Christians in the North will face increased persecution.

“There will be no help for them,” he told me.

Steven is from South Sudan, but spent six years at a refugee camp in the North (Khartoum) and has personally experienced his share of persecution.  I love that he is not just looking after his own interests–his family still lives in the South–but he has a heart for all of Sudan.  In fact, he and Candyce–and baby Wani–will probably move back to the North someday to be agents of God’s love and peace.

So please pray for the peace of Sudan!  If you feel moved beyond prayer, here’s a link that offers short term trips to one of the most vulnerable areas.

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“As I stand at the brink of a new year, I find myself still waiting. Still straining to hear His quiet voice say, “This is the way, walk ye in it.” Still scanning the horizon for mileposts to point the way. Still wondering if our future will ever come into focus . . .”   from last year’s New Year’s post, 2010 vision.

Boy howdy, did things ever come into focus this past year!

If 2009 was a year of waiting, then 2010 was a season of receiving.  Just thinking of all His good gifts to us this year makes me feel like a spoiled child!  I am so undeserving . . .

We married off our last daughter to a very godly man–God gave us sweet Ramona–we got to visit Africa and Alaska–God led us back to Abundant Life!  Those are just the highlights; there really are too many blessings to recount!

I believe that 2011 will be a year of speaking up.  The verses I want to camp out on for  the next 12 months are:

Open your mouth for the speechless,
In the cause of all who are appointed to die.
Open your mouth, judge righteously,
And plead the cause of the poor and needy. Proverbs 31:8,9

I just finished reading through the Bible this year, and if there’s one theme that is close to God’s heart, it is defending the defenseless.  I’m not sure how He intends to use me this coming year–but I’m confident it will be one wild and wonderful ride.

Anyone want to join me?

PS:  A good resource to jump start your heart is Kimberly Smith’s blog.  She speaks up with boldness and compassion for the most destitute people on the planet.

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Candyce is going to have surgery in Kampala on Saturday.  After repeated–and excrutiating–bouts of abdominal pain, she reluctantly visited a local hospital and had an ultrasound done last week.  And discovered she was the proud parent of a 1/2″ gallstone!

This news required a decision to be made.  Should she leave Steven, fly back to Oregon and pay $10,000 for gallbladder surgery?  (They don’t have insurance).  Or should she risk having the procedure done right there in Kampala?  Candyce has been in and out of enough third world countries to know that could be a sketchy choice.  But she was told about a doctor from the UK who flies to Kampala once a month and only does laproscopic gallbladder removals.   He only operates at the most modern (westernized) hospital in town.

And he just happens to fly in this week!

So after lots of prayer and advice-gathering, she’s opted to have surgery this weekend.   The operation will happen Saturday morning (which will be Friday night, west coast time, if you’d like to pray too).  She’ll stay overnight and then go home on Sunday if all goes well.  My doctor friend, Bruce, said his biggest concern is Candyce picking up an infection during her recovery at the hospital .  .  .

Even though I haven’t traveled much internationally, I do have some experience with sketch hospitals.  In 1992, we took our three young daughters and did a DTS with YWAM out of Chico, California.  A DTS, which stands for Discipleship Training School, typically involves three months of training at the YWAM base and then two months of outreach.  Our outreach was in Mexico.

For two months we traveled from village to village, doing YWAMy things (dance, drama, helping local pastors, etc.).  About midway through our outreach, we went to a small village on the outskirts of a town called Compastella.  Our time there just happened to coincide with the feast of Saint Agatha,  a holy day that the locals celebrated with fireworks and a marching band.  And the festivities started at 3 in the morning . . .

Always a light sleeper, I was roused from slumber by the ruckus.  After an hour of torment, I realized they intended to party until dawn.  Desperate, I crafted ear plugs from a bit of toilet paper.  When that didn’t help, I remembered using prenatal vitamins as impromtu earplugs at a ladies retreat (my roomie was a snorer).  

I didn’t have any prenatal vitamins with me in that village, but I rummaged through my stuff and found a bottle of Mexican aspirins.  I stuck two of the small, button-shaped tablets  in my ears and was delighted at how they muffled the hellish parade.  I slept soundly until morning.

The first aspirin popped out easily, but the second–in my left ear–had somehow worked itself so far down that I couldn’t get it out.  Somewhat panicked, I had the bright idea of rinsing my ear canal with hydrogen peroxide and letting that dissolve the aspirin and flush it out. 

 It dissolved the aspirin, all right.  But the sludge slid even farther down and adhered to my ear drum.  This might seem like a big deal, but consider that the main ingredient in aspirin is salicylic acid.   I was shocked by how much pain that little tablet caused.

I was also mortified because I had to tell Greg–and our teammates–what I’d done.  Once my team stopped laughing, it was decided that I needed to go to the hospital in Compostella, about an hour drive from the village. Trying to look brave, I waved goodbye to my girls and headed to the hospital in a battered pickup truck (the driver, our translator, Greg and myself were all packed in the dusty front seat).

I won’t even tell you about the reaction we got at the hospital after our translator explained our situation.  I’m pretty sure I was the first person they’d ever seen with an aspirin stuck in her ear canal.  A nice nurse, trying hard not to stare at me, ushered me quickly out of the waiting room (and unabashed stares) into an exam room.

Or at least she tried.

Just walking down the hospital corridor was a cultural experience.  We literally had to step over, or manuever around, dogs that were napping in the hallways.  Smelly bedpans were stacked in random intervals, waiting to be emptied.  At we followed the nurse, I tried to stay calm, but gasped out loud when she opened the door to my exam room and motioned for me (and my entourage–Greg and the interpreter) to go on in.

There was a naked Mexican man laying on the exam table! 

I’m not sure if he was waiting for a doctor–or just trying to catch a few winks–but the nurse was not happy with him.  She morphed into Nurse Crachett, barking orders at the trembling man as he tried to pull his pants up.   After he’d scurried off, the nurse indicated she wanted me have a seat on the exam table–not even bothering to wipe off the sweaty spot where the man’s butt had previously been!

She bustled off to get the doctor and I tried not to burst into tears as I took in the blood-spattered walls and filthy floor.  I almost bolted, but the pain in my ear restrained me.  When the doctor arrived, I was relieved to learn she spoke a little English.  Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all . . .

With the help of my interpreter, I explained my situation once again.  The doctor had me lay on my right side and took a look in my left ear.  Shaking her head, she explained that the dissolved aspirin was soundly stuck to my ear drum. 

“This might hurt a little,” she explained as she poked very sharp objects deep into my already sore ear and began scraping.

It hurt like crazy–and I admit, I cried.  Greg held my hand, the interpreter made clucking noises, and the doctor dug for about 20 minutes.  She then rinsed the ear canal and had another look with the otoscope.

“I got most of it,” she said.  “But I couldn’t help scratching the ear drum in the process.  I want you to come back here in a week so I can make sure it doesn’t get infected.”

We agreed, and then she asked if I wanted anything for the pain.

“Yes!” I enthusiastically responded.  The doctor went to fetch the nurse, who walked in several minutes later with a large syringe filled with dark fluid.  I asked what it was, since I am allergic to a certain painkiller.  My interpreter spoke with the nurse for a few minutes, trying to figure out the English name for the drug–but to no avail.

The ended up giving me a shot of valium, which didn’t take away the pain but made me not care that I was hurting.   Seeing that I didn’t keel over after the injection, the nurse handed Greg two more syringes to give me when the first shot wore off.

“This could be kind of fun,” he smirked as we made our back to the reception area to pay our bill.

The grand total of my treatment–including the 3 vials of valium–came to $18 US!  I don’t even think the doctor charged me when she rechecked me ear the following week.  It wasn’t infected, she told me, but there was scarring.  In fact, to this day, I sometimes have trouble hearing Greg when we are on a road trip.

Which is why I’m praying for Candyce . . .

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suffering well

I do not suffer well. Especially when it comes to physical discomfort.

Pain is not my friend.

People who tolerate pain well mystify me. I have a friend who never takes anything for pain–not even an aspirin. I offered her an excedrin a few years ago after she mentioned she had a killer headache.

“No thanks,” Kay replied. “I don’t like to take pills. Just pray for me.”

Pills that take away pain–and stuffy noses and insomnia and anxiety–are my friends! Why wouldn’t you take a pill or a treatment if it made discomfort go away?

After all, we do live in America . . .

I am finally recovering from a 2 1/2 week bout with the “whine” flu. I really didn’t appreciate the fact that I got bit by the bug just weeks before our trip to Africa. And I wasn’t able to take antibiotics because it would interfere with the typhoid vaccine I’d been given.

“Now would you rather have a sinus infection or typhoid?” my doctor asked condescendingly when I complained about my worsening condition.

Neither! I grumbled to myself. I don’t have time for this!

I suffered (whined) through sinus infection only to have it go south and head for my lungs. A nasty cough, sore throat and fever sent me back to the clinic.

I was finally prescribed amoxicillin, plus a super-powered cough syrup that cost more than all the groceries I purchased last week. And that was just the co-pay!

Last night I woke up shivering with fever and racked with a cough. An aspirin, swig of cough syrup and shot of nose spray later, I was able to settle down and actually go back to sleep.

But not before I wondered about the millions of people who suffer from much deadlier diseases and don’t have access to the most basic of medicines or medical care.

They’d be happy just to have clean water to drink!

Maybe health care in this country isn’t all that bad . . .

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