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

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

On Injustice and the Human Condition

Late last Friday afternoon, I was called to Casualty to evaluate a five year old Masai boy who had sustained a simple forearm fracture about a week ago while playing with his friends. “You’d better put some oil of wintergreen under your nose,” I was warned by the Kenyan intern, referring to the oil used to extinguish the smell of necrotic flesh. As we walked to Casualty, the real story was explained. Apparently, the boy’s father, a Masai with several wives, decided to treat the fracture using an old African method, wrapping the fractured limb tightly with leather strapping. Unfortunately, the boy’s real mother was absent at the time of the injury and treatment, caring for another son who was sick at a local district hospital. After a week in this leather tourniquet, the boy’s arm had completely died, being robbed of vital blood supply, and now he was becoming septic from the gangrenous infection that was developing. As soon as I entered casualty, the smell overwhelmed me. The boy looked sick, hurting, and after one look at the black, necrotic arm, we knew there was only one solution.

Dr. Agneta Odera, a Kenyan surgical resident currently on the orthopedic service, quickly started an IV, while I tried to distract him with “This little piggy…” However, his suffering had been so great, and he was feeling so ill, that the IV barely caused him to flinch. We explained to the boy’s mother, notably angry at the mistreatment of her son by the father, what needed to be done in order to stop the spread of infection. She consented and we quickly wheeled him off to surgery. While we were operating, I could not help but dwell on the injustice of this little, innocent boy’s situation, and the obvious neglect that he suffered by people who were supposed to protect and care for him. “This man deserves to be punished,” I thought to myself while we were closing the wound. Thankfully, the surgery went well, although it is difficult to call an above-the-elbow amputation a success.

Two days later, while rounding, we checked on the boy, and he seemed well, now smiling, even laughing, but yet undoubtedly deeply scarred from the events that he suffered. “The boy’s father has been sent to prison for neglect and child abuse,” Dr. Odera explained. While on the one hand, my personal need for justice in this situation was somewhat satiated by the father’s punishment, I still had the sense that nothing would ever be enough to satisfy this wrong that occurred…nothing, except the blood of Christ, who “himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24). In reality, we are all just like this boy’s father, guilty of sin, falling far short, deserving of punishment…yet, in faith, believing, covered by the blood of the One who bore our sin, took our infirmities, and forgave our great sin.

Please pray for this young boy that he would be healed emotionally and physically from this tragic event, and that he would come to know the true Father who always cares, protects, and advocates for him. As for us, it is our privilege to continue in the work here in Kenya to which God has called us. We greatly appreciate your prayers and support!!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Incarnational Ministry

The Kung-Fu Squatting Pandas: Edwin, Enoch, and Dennis

One of the privileges of being a missionary in Africa is the daily interactions with the Kenyans living around Tenwek. Aside from the daily work in the hospital, there are a myriad of opportunities to be involved in the lives of people, which provides definite mutual blessing. For instance, Heather and I are both involved as “coaches” with Bible Quizzing, a yearly tradition at Tenwek for elementary aged children. Boy and girls who desire to show their biblical and intellectual prowess are divided into teams to study a certain book of the bible (this year the gospel of Luke), and then compete against one another in formal quizzes. Our role as “coaches” is primarily to encourage them in their faith, to mentor them, and be their friend. My team consists of three Kenyans (Edwin, Dennis, and Enoch) and two missionary boys (Andrew and Peter) who strangely named their team “The Kung-Fu Squatting Pandas.” Heather’s team, “The Growing Lilies” (very intimidating) consists of eight sweet, yet highly competitive girls. We compete regularly against one another at every meet, the “Pandas” against the “Lilies,” the boys against the girls, Dan vs. Heather, and the competition is fierce. The Pandas’ secret weapon (Edwin) is a memorizing machine, having memorized word-for-word, 75 verses from Luke.

The privilege of consistently interacting directly with the people you live and work with can be summarized in the phrase “Incarnational Ministry,” a term I first heard from Dr. Paul Hiebert, professor of missions at Trinity, over a decade ago. Literally, incarnational means “in the flesh,” and the concept is that the most effective ministry, the ministry that meets the deepest needs, and has the biggest impact, occurs as we live, in the flesh, long-term, with the people we are called to serve. Incarnational ministry is not exclusive to international mission work. Consider a pastor called to minister to the same congregation year after year, or the teacher called to the same inner-city school, the nurse called to work the same night shift, the business owner called to consistently and faithfully serve others, or the persevering mother inconspicuously raising the next generation of leaders and believers.

Incarnational ministry is not sterile, or remote, but rather gritty, raw, and exposing. When you spend enough time with people, your idiosyncrasies and flaws will eventually become blaringly evident, but paradoxically providing the opportunity to demonstrate our need for forgiveness, and ultimately, a Savior. Our example is the true “Incarnation,” Jesus Christ, “who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross!” For Heather and I and our family, our calling is to be here at Tenwek, to serve at the hospital, and church, and to minister to the people that God sovereignly brings into our lives.

How about you? What is your Incarnational Ministry? Who have you been called to live among, to serve, and to encourage? Would you ask God “what is your calling for me?” Would you dive off the cliff and say “yes” to God even if your way is uncertain? The only way any of us can, is to truly believe, in our hearts, and by the Spirit’s empowering, that Christ is the greatest treasure that any of us could ever have, and that the life to come is so much greater, and incomparable, to than anything we could ever hope to have here on earth.