Friday, November 21, 2014

Update: For a Hug

Approximately 6 weeks ago I wrote a post on going to Uganda.
I was going to visit a little boy. I couldn't explain it well, only that I thought and (usually worried) daily about Sammy.
Would it make sense to fly across the world to hug him, and then simply leave?
And did it even matter if it made sense?

Believing God was instructing me to go, even if I didn't understand, I went. I was reminded numerous times that this was about faithfulness, not success.
At the first internet cafe I went to in Arua, the screen of the computer was this image and text:

There is a type of freedom in that. Motivation, not outcomes, become important. I will be evaluated on my obedience, not my achievement.

I did not love Arua. It was a difficult place for me to stay, and the month there was hard, even if I had not had typhoid. I loved seeing so many stars at night, and it was nice that the family I stayed with used solar power, as those connected to the town power suffered without electricity about 80% of the time.
People often asked me if I was having a good time. Sometimes I wanted to respond with NO! But it was not (and is not) about my personal enjoyment. A better question would be: Is being in Arua good? Yes! So good. There was nowhere else I would rather be, nothing else I would rather do at that time than be in Arua.

I happened to read John Piper's book, Desiring God on Christian Hedonism my second week in Arua.
I didn't even finish it. I am definitely NOT a Christian Hedonist. Try reading that book while staying with refugees in a border town beside two of the most dangerous countries in Africa. Forces in Congo, Uganda and South Sudan are guilty of using child soldiers in the last decade. Land mines are still concerns and rape was and continues to be used as a weapon of war in the neighboring nations.

The people I volunteered with are amazing; they have been working in this community and area for years. Some focus on restoring communities ravaged by war. Be it the LRA in Northern Uganda, the South Sudanese conflicts, or in DRC. They go into the refugee camps and minister to the people there, staying on-location for months at a time. They hike into the mountains to reach small villages ravaged by the LRA, to tribes considered unreached people groups to bring them the Gospel. They go to small villages and inform the women on their rights, advocate against girls being married off when they are still children. They hold the hands of the dying, offering any comfort they can.
I met someone who has HIV and saw a woman who was dying from full-blow AIDS.
I learned that more children die each year from preventable illness and disease linked to dirty water than die from every form of violence combined. In Tanzania, many parents do not even name their children until the second year of their life because so many die before reaching their second birthday. In Uganda, the statistics often talked about the milestone of living past age 5.

Do not talk to me about Christianity being Man's ultimate pleasure.
Yes, our ultimate purpose IS to know God and enjoy Him forever. Our purpose is about God, not about us.  But Christian Hedonism seems to ignore the suffering and real life in between; suffering our Savior experienced to save us, to allow us to know God, to let us enter into Forever. You cannot put rape, child abduction and landmines in a logical sentence with Christian Hedonism. But, you can put them in a sentence with missionaries, the Kingdom of God and the love of Jesus Christ. 
These people didn't give up an easy life with electricity and running water and profitable jobs to minister to the poor in war zones because they think it will result in their own pleasure. They did it for Jesus, to fulfill the Great Commission and to uphold the Kingdom of Heaven.

It is about obedience, not success. It is about the Kingdom of God, not pleasure.

Did I enjoy Arua?
But it was never about my enjoyment, my pleasure.

Arua was good.

I have not yet expanded on how this connects to Sammy, specifically.
When I arrived in Arua, I began to have a heavy heart, especially for Sammy. I also wondered what else God wanted me to do. After getting typhoid I was often at home, not volunteering as much as I had hoped and I felt pretty useless.
One Sunday I returned from Church and locked myself in my little bedroom and prayed and prayed. I asked God for direction on how to bless this community, on how I could do something to impact the people around me, despite of the communication barriers, the limited time.
I got up, unsure of a clear answer and sighed heavily.
I walked out of the house and took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the sunny compound.

The compound was filled with children.

They were all huddled around the picture Bible I had given to Sammy. The older ones, who could read and speak English were reading out loud.

There was my answer.

Every Sunday following, and multiple times throughout the week, Sammy would run to me with the picture Bible, and the other neighborhood children would circle around and I would read them stories, create object lessons and talk about my faith in Jesus.

Sammy got daily stories, just me and him. We read in the shade on sunny afternoons, with mugs of hot chocolate on the couch, or by flashlight at night. He sat on my lap and helped identify the characters.
On my final day in Arua, Sammy said he believed that Jesus is still alive, even though there is a picture of Jesus dying in his Bible, it is not the last picture. He said he believes Jesus came back to life, can hear him at the bottom of the ocean, inside of a fish's belly, like Jonah, or even here in Arua. Because if Jesus is in heaven, he can hear him and help him from anywhere.

I came to Arua to give a little boy a hug. But this was so, so, so much better.

Going to Arua was good. So good.
Even if it was not enjoyable.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Something on hope and hospitals

A few months ago, back in Canada I was praying for my little friend Sammy and thought about his dad. You see, Sammy's father has a terminal illness. There is no cure for his disease. He is guaranteed to die. The question isn't if; but 'When?'.

But I very suddenly, quite heavily, realized that's not only true for Sammy's dad.
It's true for everyone.

We are all going to die. It's not 'if', it's 'when'. None of us get away from it, whether we are diagnosed with a terminal illness or old age.

And that should make all of us live differently.

Yes, I am guaranteed forever, but not forever on this earth.

My friend Ella at YWAM Arua heads up a hospital ministry where twice a week she goes to the tuberculosis ward of the hospital, to visit the patients and provide some food. (Ugandan hospitals do not give patients food, family is expected to provide that. Actually, they don't even give treatment or medicine unless you can pay). Some of the patients in the TB ward have tuberculosis, but are not receiving any treatment, they are just isolated from spreading this air-borne contagion.
They enter the hospital, climb on a bed and have a shelter to keep the rain off, a blanket to stay warm. But not necessarily medical treatment, food or drinkable water.

Ella's heart is for people with HIV and tuberculosis because she sees that so many have lost hope, that they feel they have been sentenced to die. Many have been abandoned by their families and friends and are very literally waiting to die. Ella told me this is especially true of tuberculosis victims, because of the nature of the spreading of the disease, families often don't come to visit and completely abandon their sick relatives. Abandoned to hospitals without food or medical treatment – you see where this is leading?

These people will die.

But so will you and I.

And many of those in the TB ward of Arua Hospital do die, every week, every month.

I wouldn't have joined the hospital ministry if I knew that it was ministering to dying people. I was always afraid of hospice ministry. That is, until I saw Ella in action. It's not about the whole picture, the huge scope of one's life. It's about this moment, this minute in time together with another person. It's not about finding a cure, or giving an answer to important questions, Ella focuses on being completely present with the person she is talking to.
Not looking away from tear-filled eyes, but giving full attention.
Not avoiding the wide-eyed gaze of an emaciated woman who has been given a few days to live by doctors, but knowing how precious every second is.
While I had previously assumed that it would be an emotionally-draining, incredibly depressing ministry focused on dying (and it does have those elements) I had no idea how full of hope it would be. How much hospice care celebrates life. That my talents and abilities are reduced down to one of the more under-utilized gifts I can give, I can give to anyone- any human can give to another human; the gift of physical presence.
This ministry is not about death; it is about hope. Even a spark of hope in a black night, but how worth it is that tiny, flickering spark!

And that is why my friend Ella visits people every week. Her ministry brings food, sometimes the only source of food these individuals have. But just as important, she prays with them, learns their name and spends time talking to them. For people who have been abandoned by their family, or perhaps have no remaining family alive, this is spiritual and emotional food.
She brings hope to people who often feel completely alone, waiting to die. Some of the people she prays with ask her “which God are you praying to?” And then she has the wonderful opportunity to share about her hope, Jesus.

Jesus is the real hope. Jesus is eternal.
Everything else is temporary.