Dan, Heather, Jeremiah, Tory, Emma, Tye, Claire, Levi, Josie, Jane and Ethan

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Life at Tenwek

Having finished our first full week at Tenwek Hospital, we are thankful, and a little tired. We have been so busy setting up, starting homeschooling, and working at the hospital that we totally forgot Thanksgiving Day on Thursday (not a Kenyan holiday). But the tradition here is to celebrate on the Saturday after, so yesterday, all the American families gathered for a full Thanksgiving dinner! The kids seem to be adjusting to our new Kenyan/Tenwek culture. There are many other American children here, and thankfully, the kids all have at least one friend.

Being a few degrees south of the equator, but at an elevation of 6800 feet, the temperatures are perfect, and the sun rises and sets every day at the same time, 6:30 am and 6:30 pm. This is the “hot time of year,” according to the Kenyans (summer time, or the “short rain” season, where it rains a little almost every day in the afternoon). It is difficult to explain that a high of 80 degrees is perfect, compared with the scorching summer heat of Phoenix.

The work at the hospital has been challenging, in terms of volume and pathology. Debilitating bone infections are very common here, some of which have been going on for years…I find myself constantly praying for wisdom for proper management decisions. On Friday, a young 20 year old man came to see me with a large mass on his right leg. He had it biopsied last year and it was found to be a very rare malignancy, one I had never seen before, even at the Mayo Clinic. In my first week, I did 18 cases, and I discovered that the orthopedic supplies are running at a critical low, especially plates and screws.

Please continue to pray for us in our adjustment here:
• Pray that God continues to provide wisdom for Heather with homeschooling, and for me at the hospital.
• Please pray that God provides all the necessary supplies for a fully functioning orthopedic department.
• Pray that God would move people, hospitals and companies to donate finances and supplies for the work here.
• Also, your continued prayer for our physical, emotional, mental, and especially spiritual health is so cornerstone.

Thank you for your support…we appreciate you so much!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Getting Settled…

On Saturday, after spending two days in Nairobi and buying enough groceries to last for the next two months, we made the 3-1/2 hour trek to Tenwek. The road was much improved since we were last here in 2006, allowing our driver to make good time, Kenyan style. We arrived in the late afternoon, and were greeted by several families living here…Claire and Emma made instant friendships with a little girl named Ingrid.

Being away from surgery for the last few months, I have been very anxious to get started. Of course, “be careful what you wish for.” After church on Sunday AM, I had a tour of the hospital and began to get acquainted with the Kenyan staff and patients, 25 on the service list when I arrived, some two to a bed. I quickly learned the damage that can be done by a “panga,” a large double edged machete.

Since I am supposed to be easing into my schedule here, I have only done 5 cases in the last two days. There are the typical cases you would see in the states (fractures, etc), but also some “atypical.” For instance, today I operated on a man that had a femur fracture three years ago that was never fixed, and thus never healed. So I cut out the non-healed portion of bone, brought the ends together, fixed them with a special plate and screws, and grafted the area with bone from his pelvis. There are also sad cases that should never happen, no matter where you practice. Today, I saw a 4 year old boy who had a simple wrist fracture that his grandpa thought would be best treated by tightly wrapping with a piece of cow leather. His hand was completely dead…tomorrow he will get an amputation.

Please continue to pray for our children. Claire and Emma have been especially sensitive to all the new sights, sounds and smells. In Nairobi, we went a butcher shop, and this must have really affected Claire…two nights ago, I was awoken by soft crying from the girl’s room. When I went to find out what was wrong, she told me she had a dream that she found two baby bunnies, but mom took them from her, and butchered and cooked them. Poor thing!

Although it has only been a few days, we feel so privileged and thankful to God to be here. Thank you for all your prayers and support…we appreciate you so much.

Friday, November 21, 2008

We have arrived!

After 25 hours of travel time, little sleep, and only one small mishap (a glass of water falling on Levi’s face while he was asleep) we arrived safely in Nairobi last evening! Thank God, there were absolutely no issues or problems with the logistics of the travel, aside from the fact that when we initially checked in at NWA in Phoenix, they were not going to issue our boarding passes because we did not have return flights (Kenyan visas are issued at the Nairobi airport and are only good for three months). But one quick call to Samaritan’s Purse, a subsequent fax, and all was well. We checked 23 items (20 “Action Packers”, 2 duffle bags, and 1 box) filled with homeschooling supplies, orthopedic equipment, household items, etc. totaling 1390 lbs! They ALL arrived in Nairobi and in good condition (at least on the outside). I was a little concerned, because as we were boarding our initial flight in Phoenix, I looked out the window to see the baggage handlers tossing the action packers upside-down on the loading belt. Oh well…

Dr. Russ White, the chief surgeon at Tenwek, kindly met us at the airport, along with his two boys, two Samaritan’s Purse staff and three trucks to haul our stuff (so embarrassing as Americans – why do we have so much “stuff”). We stayed the night at the Mennonite Guest House in Nairobi, and today has involved shopping for groceries with Russ’s wife Beth, buying a SIM card for my Palm Treo, and grabbing a quick latte at The Java House (Kenyan equivalent of Starbucks). The Whites have been such a blessing to us since the beginning...I could not imagine trying to handle all of this without their help. The kids have been playing all day outside in the warm sunshine, meeting new friends. Jeremiah just came in the room after trying to catch skinks all morning and said, “Dad, I love Kenya.” He is in his element. Tomorrow, Lord willing, we head for Tenwek.
Thank you for your prayers during this journey…we remain so dependent upon God’s mercy and grace. Please continue to pray for us now while we get settled in, set up the house, get into a routine, and as I start surgery. We appreciate you all so much!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Letting go...(part 2)

Letting go…

Claire has had an extremely loose front tooth which she has been pampering for the last two months. She would not let anyone even come near it, including the master tooth puller, Grandma Galat. “I’m the boss of my own tooth,” she told me in her trademark raspy voice. With all our transition, and with emotions running high, as a sensitive dad, I figured it was best to just “let it be. Eventually, it would just fall out on its own,” I reasoned. However, this last week, I had had enough. It was pointing almost 90 degrees straight forward, and was starting to turn grey. So I turned up the heat a bit, bribing her, like a good conscientious dad, with candy, and money. No dice.

So then I gave her the ultimatum: she had five minutes to pull it herself or the “tooth fairy” was going to do it himself (in our family, it is actually believed that the tooth fairy is a male??). She insisted she did not need anyone’s help, so she went into the bathroom alone, determined to get the job done. A few minutes later, she dejectedly emerged of the bathroom, ashen and sweaty, and mumbled something about feeling faint. I told her to let daddy take a look, and it was literally hanging by a thread. I rallied behind her, and encouraged her to simply grab it with a Kleenex. She did so, and, without her even knowing, the tooth was finally extracted. Once she realized the job was done, she burst out with joy and laughter, relieved, and perhaps surprised at how easy it was. “That wasn’t so bad!” she exclaimed.

How true that our nature is to say, “I am the boss of my own life.” Our sin and pride deceives us into thinking that we are the master of our own destiny, and that we must provide for ourselves. “If we don’t, who will?” The lure of security drives us to hold on to temporal things that seem so precious, and that would feel so tragic to lose. But reality is that we have a sovereign creator who lovingly drives the ship of our lives, who promises to give us what we need (not necessarily what we want). And our attempts to provide for ourselves are broken, counterfeit, poor substitutes. We just need to let go, and trust that what God has for us is so much better than anything we could incompletely provide for ourselves. And perhaps, like Claire, we too will realize our fears may have been unreasonable, and be surprised and relieved by joy.

"My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” Jeremiah 2:13

"The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” Matt. 13:44

We are now on the home stretch, leaving in two short days. The packing is complete: 20 Rubbermaid “Action Packers” and 2 duffle bags, each packed precisely to airline standards (or so I hope). Please keep us in your prayers for "traveling mercy." Soon, according to MTI, we will enter the CHAOS stage of transition (so looking forward to this!)

N.B. Claire’s neighboring tooth is now ripe for pulling. However, she told me today she is in charge of that tooth as well. Learning to let go is a process for us all! Thank you for your prayers and support!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Our whirlwind mini-tour of the U.S. complete, we have finally arrived back in Phoenix, and now have only six days and seven nights left before our journey truly begins. We spent three weeks at Mission Training International in Colorado learning many valuable lessons in conflict management and resolution (Heather is a “shark” and I am an “owl”), perseverance through various trials (i.e. rotovirus), and the greatest tool for evangelism and discipleship (i.e. the love and respect we demonstrate in our immediate family is the strongest Christian witness to those around us…our family is a work in progress on this one).

Jeremiah was particularly ornery the first week, but then discovered that digging in a dirt pile near the train tracks and looking for stray hunks of coal was much more satisfying than tormenting his sisters. The girls provided their usual, yet so enjoyable, drama, and Levi was…Levi. The kids learned much from “Uncle Dave” and “Aunt Sandy” (their teachers). Perhaps most significantly, they learned that it is normal and expected to have paradoxical feelings about our call to Kenya…on the one hand excited to experience this new and raw adventure… on the other hand, sad to leave the things that have provided the most comfort, familiarity, and stability. The adults explored these concepts as well, and even had a day devoted to grief and loss. Rich subjects for an orthopedic surgeon accustomed to stuffing emotions for the past 5 years of training.

While we were in Ohio in September, our nephew Alex was engaged to be married to a beautiful young lady, Sarah. They planned the wedding the weekend after MTI (and prior to our departure for Kenya), just so our family could come. To seal the deal, they invited Emma and Claire to be the flower girls. Thus, last Friday, we drove from Colorado Springs to Denver, caught a flight to Ohio, and just barely made the rehearsal that evening. The busyness and stress of getting there quickly dissipated, however, as I saw Alex and Sarah’s joy, and the sight of my two beautiful little girls, who looked (and I’m sure felt) as if they were princesses in a fairy tale. As for us, it was a bittersweet time...a paradox…the deep joy of witnessing a young couple’s union and seeing family, mixed with the sorrow of having to say “goodbye” yet again.

Life is a paradox. However, learning to live in, and embrace, the tension of conflicting emotions is a step toward a greater maturity. The paradox can produce bitterness and disillusionment…or…it can create in us a longing for the one true place our souls find rest. "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28-30)

Thank you again for your prayers! Please continue to pray for our children as they say their goodbyes over the next few days, and that they would find their hope in Jesus. Please pray for Heather as she finishes packing, and that her goodbyes would be deep and satisfying. Pray that our family is united in love for the glory of God’s kingdom. And pray that God would fill us with wisdom for every facet of this journey, and for safety along the way.

Monday, November 3, 2008

A Practicum on Romans 8:28

Two weeks down and one week to go here at MTI. Levi’s “flu” slowly worked its evil way through our family, striking Heather on Monday night. That same night, my Dell laptop computer screen died, cut short in its prime after only two years of faithful service. I could barely see the Windows logo through the black screen. The following night, determined to solve this very unfortunate problem, I called the dreaded Dell “support line.” After two hours on the phone with “Michael,” a very nice young man from somewhere in India, straining to understand his instructions for trouble-shooting my system, we finally decided what I astutely knew all along: my LCD screen was broken.

The following day, Emma and I fell prey to the flu. I don’t recall being that sick since getting food poisoning after eating a bad shrimp dish on our 5th wedding anniversary. While laying in bed, struggling to understand God’s purposes in all this, I was reminded of Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.” If we truly believe that God is sovereign, then do we believe that whatever happens, whether good or bad, has a purpose? At times, the purpose may be clear; more often than not, it is veiled from our understanding, left to the hidden things of God. What if our family getting sick now is a blessing? Wouldn’t it be better here at MTI than the week before we leave for Kenya (or worse yet, while on the journey over)? And would I rather of had my computer troubles start shortly after arriving in Kenya?

Thankfully, two years ago when I bought the laptop, I also purchased the in-home warranty, and Michael made arrangements for a local Dell technician to come here to MTI to replace my screen. Two days later, I was greeted by a man who introduced himself as “my private geek,” and in a few short hours, my computer was running perfectly again, tuned and ready to go for Kenya. And the flu? The plague ran its course, cut short after Heather declared war and unleashed an entire industrial size can of Lysol on our rooms.

Tougher times are most likely on the horizon for all of us. But God never promised to shield us from trials, even trivial ones like ours. In fact, they are his instruments for our discipline, character and maturity, creating in us a hope, a longing for things eternal rather than things temporal. Although painful, can we rest in his sovereignty and his promises?

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered for a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.
1 Pet. 5:10.