Up the Mekong River

One of our objectives while being in Cambodia was recon three areas that our team is currently working in, and make an assessment for what it would look like to expand our medical and agriculture teams into those areas. We visited rural clinics, urban hospitals, sat down with people who are on the ground, NGOs who are in the area and other teams of missionaries to help with part of this assessment.

During our reconnaissance we also met with local believers that our team is ministering to. What a joy to hear some of their testimonies of what God is doing in them and through them. While the area is predominantly Buddhist, there is a mixing of other gods and beliefs as well. Many people feel while they like the story of Jesus, to follow Him would be turing their back on their culture and their family. It is no casual decision to choose Christ.

We heard of one village up the Mekong river, near the Laos border, that was rumoured to be unreached… so we hoped in a boat and went to check it out. An hour up the river, we stopped next to a muddy steep river bank. People just stared as we walked through and tried to greet them, several didn’t understand Khmer, the national language of Cambodia. We had gotten far enough away from the cities that we found a few elderly women topless, smoking on pipes.  Some of the people who we chatted with said that we would find more answers to our agriculture questions if we went a bit further.

So we once again got into the boat and went up a little tributary another 20 minutes. We found a place to stop and trekked up a steep muddy river bank, and into a family’s front yard. After some chatting, they informed us that the fields were actually so far away that people would sleep for two nights on the trail to get there. We explained that we were missionaries and were trying to get a better understanding of their area.

They told us that there are only four Christians in their area, and one happened to be their neighbor. One of the kids was sent to go and find him. While we waited the neighbours mockingly told us about the man: He refuses to drink and celebrate in our religious ceremonies. He only worships his God and will not make sacrifices when it is time to plant in the rice fields. His wife left him several months ago, and even then he did not turn his back on His God, he just keeps taking care of his kids and farming.

Once the man arrived, we spend some time encouraging him. Obviously He was very solid in his faith, but didn’t get to church often because it was so far away. Our friends shared some scriptures in Khmer with him and we heard more about his family.

Our boat driver came to find us and tell us that it was time to head back so we would be off the river before dark. But before we could finish our goodbyes, a man walked up with a cane, the muscles on one leg severely atrophied. We asked if we could pray for him. He agreed. He said he had heard of the God that we served. Laotian christians had crossed the border to tell him, as well as Cambodian believers; but he was unwilling to leave all the religious traditions that he grew up with. And so we prayed for him. That God would heal him and bring a revelation of the power and love to his heart. We finished praying, and while God did not instantly heal his leg, the man says, I think I want to follow your Jesus. So we prayed with him as he made a confession of faith.

We hated to rush, but our boat driver was getting concerned about the time. What a joy to have found this family, and been able to leave this new believer with his neighbour. Although we never found the fields we rejoice for the seeds of faith that were sowed and reaped in one afternoon on the river. We are excited to know that there is a family with Overland who will be moving out to that specific area of Cambodia in January. We look forward to hearing more reports of how God is moving in that region.

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Good enough

I will be honest, some days I struggle with the health care system here. We had a huge breakthrough last year when we were finally given permission to teach a class. It was awesome! We hit the ground running and saw such great results. But when I got back from my break in the USA in April, the tides seemed to have turned. In the last 6 months the government office that I need to coordinate teaching through has not set up one class. Phone calls go unanswered and promises are broken.

Then another area of Zambia opened up! The doctor in charge of that specific health district welcomed us to teach in all 17 of his clinics and hospitals. I was super excited. Another teammate did a ton of work to coordinate meetings and get everything set up.

We drove for 7 hours and camped in tents for a week. We had meetings (once again with the district officials) and drove for 2 more hours to set up a class that was so far in the bush they didn’t have cell service.

The government clinic, that was closest to where we were camping, had 11 people who are working at the clinic in various capacities and have the potential to be on call for deliveries. So we arranged classes with them.

But on the day of the class no one was there. The nurse in charge said she had to leave in a few minutes for a meeting in another area, one came by for a few minutes and then left. No one else bother to show up. There were some nursing students who ended up taking the class, which was great…. but I was so disappointed that no one from this clinic was interested in taking a class that could save lives.  I can’t pretend to completely understand any of their motivation for skipping class… but I have seen so many others that say “this is how its always been”,  “this is what everyone else is doing as a standard of healthcare, so that is good enough”, “this is what I was taught to expect as statistics and outcomes, death is just part of the equation”.

But don’t you know what I am offering? I am giving you the skills and equipment for FREE so you can save lives. So you can do your job better. So that no more mothers return home empty handed after giving birth. How could you not want to use this?!?!?

The next day we drove out to the remote village and I was blown away by 4 people and their desire to learn. Because when you are in the trenches you realise that an extra weapon in your arsenal is one to be utilised. This clinic is so far out in the bush, that when there is an emergency they have to ride a motorcycle for an hour to get cell service to call and ask for the government hospital to send transport. Then it takes another 2-3 hours for help to arrive. We are so thankful for their desire to learn, I am confident that their community will be changed by the skills they have learned, and the character within them.

As I reflected on the situation (and yes, I was frustrated and judging that other clinic) God reminded me of how there are some days that I am also like these people. I am lazy and apathetic. I look at my situation and think that it is good enough. Or I look at others and think, well I’m doing better that that person, so it’s all good.  And compared to the averages out there, I am on track.  I’m above status quo, so I’m winning.

And God asked me: Don’t you realise what I am giving you as a free gift? so you can win in this life as a believer? Did you forget the sacrifice that was given so that you could have intimacy with Father God? Why would you not want to take advantage of the gift of the Holy Spirit, so when you move in ministry the power of God works through you?

We have been called to be set apart. To be holy as He is holy. We are to set our standard of comparison against the power of the Gospel, not against mere mortal man. To live a life worthy of the calling He has given us, worthy of the Gospel. We are not those give up when the timeline is not as we imagined, or when it is much harder than we ever expected, or if the sacrifice was painful. We are not of those who shrink back. We press onward and fight in love with the confidence that my God is a God of victory and the battle has already been won.  We take hold of the gift that was offered so that we run this race well and succeed in the way that God intended for us to do it: through HIM, not relying on our own strength.

Sow, Water, Grow.

There are some days that we preach or pray and immediately see what God is doing. Co-workers tell stories of answers to prayer days and months after our teams leave an area. And some days we never know what the results might be. But we confidently continue to love people, preach the simple pure Gospel of Christ and pray for God’s will to be done. Scripture promises that God’s word will not return void.

In 2011 I was in the middle of my 3 month Advanced Missions Training (AMT) Program. God was doing some HUGE things in my heart and mind during that time as I was seeing for the first time God do miracles and set people free. The things that I saw and learned during those three months were surely life changing as I began to pray with more confidence, in accordance to God’s word, and in alignment with His purposes. You can read the crazy testimonies here.

Last month we went back to Musukutwani, close to the area where we had our expedition, for a women’s conference. I remembered the names of M and her sister, and was hoping that someone might know how they were doing. (If you don’t know who I am talking about, you have to read these three blogs!!!) Sector manager and translator, Paul, introduced us to the Pastor whose family we were going to be staying with. As we got to talking he shared part of his testimony.

That same week of expedition, 6 years ago, one of the teams from our AMT found Jerry. He was drunk. But they shared the love of Christ with him, and he immediately became sober and chose to follow Jesus Christ. He says that day, his whole life has changed. He no longer drinks or fights and now he is faithful to his wife. He began to grow in his faith, and is now a pastor in the area. We praise God for what He has done in Pastor Jerry’s life during the last 6 years. IMG_3364

That evening a women came by the campfire to help make some last minute plans for the conference. Paul had asked her to organize cooking the food that we had brought for the 50+ women who were expected to attend. After she introduced herself, I found out that she was the sister of M! What a small world!!! IMG_3396

The next day turned out a little bit different than we had expected. We still helped prep the food; here we are cracking 100+ eggs.  There was a funeral in the immediate village were we were to hold the conference, and there is the cultural expectation that everyone must attend the burial. We were told that they would come after the funeral. So we waited ALL day. And finally they showed up. Instead of having an all day conference, we had about 2 hours. But Manon, Sonja, Paul and I all saw God at work in those two hours.

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And guess who Paul had selected to help us with translation? M. Paul had no idea what her connection to me was. Since that last time that we met, she has been healthy and strong, she has several children and has been growing in her faith. Sherrill and her team from Sustainable Agriculture had come to the area a few years back, and taught M how to be able to have a year round garden. M and her family have had enough food to eat since that time. When she is able, M attends Pastor Jerry’s church. It is such a beautiful testimony to see God’s faithfulness in her life, to continue the good work that He started all those years ago. While I was personally unable to disciple her or even follow up, God brought people into her life at strategic times to encourage her.

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After the very short conference, we once again gathered around the campfire at Pastor Jerry’s house. The sisters continued to ask questions about the things they had heard. What does it mean that we are New Creations in Christ. Paul draws pictures in the sand as he once again explains 2 Cor. 5:17 Is God really able to use anyone to be part of the Great Commission? When we told them that God would use anyone who is available and willing to share the Gospel with others, the sisters agreed that they wanted to do it. One asked what am I suppose to say since I am still new in learning about God and the Bible. We asked her, what do you know? She answers, I know John 3:16. Perfect! Start there and tell people what God’s love has done to change your life. And then they ask, when can we start telling people? It is now 10:30 at night. How about tomorrow? Yes, they answer. We will start tomorrow.

I have no idea when we will see them next, but I am confident that God will use these two mighty women of faith to change their communities. And it is such a blessing to see how God has been at work in each of these stories. He surely is faithful. And we continue onward with the confidence that while we plant, others may water, but it is God Himself who gives the growth.

Interruptions

“Where have you been? We have been waiting for you to come back and teach us.”
After 5 difficult years working with the ministry of Health in Zambia, the open doors in DR Congo still take me by surprise. The Doctor in charge of the Health District proceeded to give us an update on what has happened during the last 10 months while we waited for our 5 year visas to be processed, so that we could return. (WE GOT 5 YEAR VISAS!!!!!!!!!!)

Last year we taught two classes before we had to leave the country due to political instability. At one class, the hospital informed us they had approximately a 20% infant mortality rate.
It was relatively easy to identify some problem areas to address during our training:
– There was a total lack of education regarding infant resuscitation.
– Any equipment that they had was either broken, or the incorrect size.
– There was only one person who had been trained in newborn resuscitation and they did not work in the maternity/labor ward. If a baby needed help they would run with the baby to the other side of the hospital (this usually took 3-5 minutes. If brain damage and death results after 1 minute without ventilation, you can imagine how futile this was.)
– No one who was trained worked the night shift when the majority of births occurred.

The doctor said that since the training in October, there has only been one baby die. ONLY ONE!!!! I almost started crying happy tears. Since he saw how well it worked at his facility, he was more than willing to help us teach at 2 more areas that week. I was so proud of the group who had taken what we had taught and immediately put it into practice.

Our doctor arranged for two classes while I was in country. We got started with a morning class and had some wonderful students. None of them had ever been trained or used the simple medical equipment we brought and they jumped right in, asking good questions and learning the skills. They gratefully received the reusable suction and BVM and promised to implement their skills at the next birth.

The second class of the day we drove across town to the next facility. We squished 9 students and 4 of us from Overland into a super tiny exam room. This group had a little bit different air about them, and were not quite welcoming.

They showed us that an NGO had left them an oxygen concetrator, but it is locked in a cabinet and only used for special occasions. When a baby was born and didn’t breathe they would put rubbing alcohol all over its face to try and wake it up and then do mouth to mouth through a cloth until it started breathing. While their methods are a bit unorthodox and concerning in a place where there is plenty of HIV and other infections, I appreciated their attempts. They reported about 5-10% mortality rate in their clinic.

About 30 minutes into the teaching, we were interrupted by the Immigration officials. We grabbed our passports and stepped out into the corridor expecting to just show them the official 5 year visas, and then go back to class. But we were marched across the street to the office and there was an official who yelled at us, accusing us of illegally being in the country. Even though we showed him all our correct paperwork, and our lawyer (who is also our translator) explained everything, he could not be convinced that we were telling the truth. How can you be missionaries who preach the Gospel as well as teach these classes in the hospital? Then after 2.5 hours of ranting and raving we were let go. We just sat there patiently waiting for him to run out of steam.

Ironically all of our students were now genuinely concerned about us and had gathered in the yard to check on us. We walked over to the facility and squished back into the tiny room. We assured them that we love Congo and the people of Congo and that while we had to cancel the class for the day (to avoid driving on a bad road at night) we would be back. “But you can’t leave us without teaching us.” Oh what a sweet change of heart that had happened in the last three hours. They gave us cookies and water before sending us on our way. I am thankful that despite all the chaos, peace truly ruled in our hearts as we all stood in agreement that God is the one who has called us to this place and one person’s crazy tirade will not deter us from our goal. Our prayer is that God will continue to bring true life transformation to every single person in this nation, regardless of their perceived position of authority and power. And while my schedule is a little bit busy for the next month, I am excited to return to DRC and continue teaching and investing in the lives of these precious people. One small interruption will not slow our determination to continue in what God has asked to do.

Against the statistical odds

I am not a huge fan of rules that hold no credence, regulations birthed from fear, and black and white policies for that minuscule possibility. You are too old, too young, too big, too small, too short… We believe you might fail. Yes, the statistical probability is extremely low, but we will make rules for that 1/10,000 case. And so we write guidelines that are taken as law, when they should probably stay within the “there is a possibility, so be aware.” area of practicing medicine. The frustrating thing is that for all of these reasoning, I have already seen dozens of women in the last 9 years give birth quite successfully even fitting into these categories of “expected failure”.

This last month I was able to convince the nurse I work under to allow an “older” mother a trial of labor, instead of the immediate transfer to the hospital due to nothing except her age. Which basically means that we know that there is a higher possibility of complications due to statistics, but right now everything with mother and baby are perfectly within normal limits. I promised that if there was even the slightest twinge of anything other than perfect vitals I would immediately transfer her to the government hospital.

And several hours later we welcomed a baby boy. He was perfect and his mother was amazingly determined. The nurse admitted they never thought should would be able to do it. But Manon and I had worked with her and encouraged her for hours telling her that she was strong and she could do this! It was so fun to celebrate with her the birth of her son, and see her dream to be a mother come to fruition.

A few days ago we had to transfer a very young mother due to the possibility of preterm labor (we were unsure of her dates). She was already destined to be transferred to the hospital due to her age. When we left the clinic she was 5cm dilated, by the time we bounced down the road for an hour at 4:30am she was 9cm dilated. The staff at the hospital made her guardian sign the waiver for a c-section (100% due to her age and without any other medical indications). Thankfully because the government hospital is less than efficient, she was able to deliver without surgical intervention before they forced the procedure on her. Thank you Lord for answering our prayers!

As an organization we often hear the opinion of others as we continue to grow and begin to work in new areas. Why are you trying to reach the nomadic bush people? They will never respond. Why are you going to that country? Don’t you know that their culture and religion is against what you believe? Don’t expect anyone to come to faith in Christ, it will take years before anyone changes their hearts or minds. Why are you going to that country? It isn’t safe, they have had war and corruption for years. They are never going to change. Why are you working in the villages with people who are uneducated and isolated? You walked for how many hours and arrived to find only 2 people waiting for you? Isn’t that a waste of your time and resources? We believe that each and every person should have the opportunity to hear how much the Father God loves them regardless of their tribal background, level of education, socioeconomic status or geographical location.

I am so thankful to work with people who are willing to not allow statistics define their vision or ministry strategy. Friends who count the cost, take the risk, put in the long hours, terrible roads, and “interesting” food, so that the transformational Gospel can be shared. For we have called to not assess anyone according to the flesh but with the belief that we are new creations and not defined by any human standard, but only in the way that God sees us: Forgiven through extravagant grace, redeemed, made righteous by the blood of Jesus, washed clean of our guilt and shame, and given everything we need for life and godliness. Called and equipped by His Spirit to carry out the work we have been given. And so we continue to press onward!

 

A New Confidence in Chibule

We were given 3 students who are in our Advanced Missions Training program to shadow Manon and I for a week.  It was fun to have them with us as we connected with some of the families that I have seen God touch in the last 3 years. Due to their geographic location, I don’t often get back out to visit.IMG_0285

First stop was in Chilbule village. God miraculously saved Jonathon’s life and ministered to his mom Janet during his birth at Nsongwe. Their story is here.  Last time we visited, all the adults in their family chose to follow in the ways of Jesus. This time we encouraged them to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit and know with confidence that God wants to use them to minister in their own community. After we prayed for them, we asked if anyone was sick and wanted us to pray for them. One older woman said her back, hips and legs hurt and she could barely walk. So our team prayed for her. Nothing drastically improved, but while we were praying I heard the Spirit of God saying that her family needed to pray for her. So I instructed them to pray for her healing. Immediately God healed her and she jumped up stomping her feet and stretching her back.

Soon Janet’s family began yelling for their neighbors to come so we could pray for them. And then four ladies and one man walked with us from house to house, showing us their neighbors who were sick. Five elderly women who had leg and back pain were healed. Another woman asked for prayed because her neighbors were accusing her of being a witch and harming people in her community. Even the children laid their hands on the sick and prayed with us.

Innocent needed prayer for his legs. We found him carving a cane out of wood in front of his tiny mud hut. After we prayed and God miraculously healed him, he started running around his yard showing us how great he felt. Praise God!

One of my favorite testimonies was about two hours later when one lady confessed that she had terrible back pain, but kept quiet and never asked for us to pray for her. Yet she walked around with us praying for her neighbors, and while she was praying for someone else, God miraculously healed her back. What a loving Father we have!

I am so thankful that God uses us to bring His love and peace everywhere we go. As we left we encouraged Janet’s family to continue listening for the voice of God, telling others of His love and salvation, and to pray with confidence to anyone who is sick or oppressed. IMG_0275

 

 

Bold and disobedient = History changers.

When I started on my journey of midwifery, I genuinely had no idea what I was getting myself into. I had not really done much research on the history of midwives or what it meant to be “with woman” (the core definition of midwifery).  I only knew that it would be a vocation that would allow me to be a part of making a difference in maternal and neonatal mortality rates specifically in developing countries. Yesterday was the International day of the Midwife. I am proud to know, and stand shoulder to shoulder with some of the strongest, most courageous, beautiful women in all the corners of the world. Willing to fight against the odds so that dignity can be restored, hope can endure, healing can begin and life can prevail victoriously .

Our history as midwives is not just a job but a calling that is one of my favorite stories from Scripture. A whole nation had been enslaved for years under cruel, ruthless bondage. It seemed as though God had forgotten them as they labored in the desert making bricks. And yet in the midst of their suffering, they somehow were fertile enough that their captors began to worry about an uprising from their thriving population. So the Pharaoh calls for the Israeli midwives who served the slaves, instructing them to kill every male baby.

And they refused. The midwives, Puah and Shiprah, feared God and in direct defiance to the Pharaoh’s orders, allowed the babies to live.  They were called back and once again questioned as to why they were not killing the male children.  Shiprah and Puah lie to the Pharaoh, implying that Israeli slave women birth so quickly that the midwives had missed the births.

For these women to live in such bold disobedience to authority was a testimony of their convictions. Within the Jewish culture, women did not typically defy male leadership. As a slave living in horrific conditions, their resistance to Pharaoh’s edict could have easily led to severe punishment and death. But here were women who knew that God had called them to this moment in history, and they feared God.  And God blessed their rebellion and established their own families and identity within their nation and honored their names for the rest of history.

These midwives became a beacon of hope during a season of life when all seemed lost. God was beginning to raise up individuals to be a part of setting the nation of Israel free from their captivity. They refused to accept their status as mere slave women.

I love the irony of God’s heart as He sets the plan of redemption into play. Lets find the least valued members of society and use them to set a nation free. Here are two women who were either single or barren in a culture where your ability to produce offspring defined your value. At a time in history where womens’ voices held no authority; in a court of law a woman’s testimony was usually invalid because she was viewed as ineligible witness. As slaves, they had no rights.

But these women feared God. They counted the cost, and decided that they would risk death rather than walk in the defined role that had been designated for them. Two ordinary women refused to accept that their destiny was merely surviving. Two midwives changed the course of history and helped to set a nation free. May we live in such a way to look at each situation though the lens of God’s love and character. These midwives didn’t live in fear of their circumstances because they had rightly understood God’s heart and lived in a true reverence (fear) that He was who He said He was – and that He was more powerful than any state of life one may face . May we live as midwives who are willing to fight against a culture of oppression and slavery, to protect the vulnerable, and stand in defiance against anyone or anything that attempts to mold us into anything but what God has created for us to be. Because somedays absolute rebellion is required to save a life or bring freedom to the captives.