Day 9: Hour 216

The stars here in Africa are awe-inspiring. For the first time in my existence, I laid eyes on the Southern Cross. Wow!

Being able to stay with Dr. Kubacki and his family has been amazing. His wife Betsy is wonderful and has taken such good care of us. His kids, Ben and Meredith, are a blast to hang out with. Kyle, Ben, and I recently got the chance to play soccer with some of the local Angolan guys. And it seemed like every kid in the village came out to watch us! So much fun. A few of the local guys played in their bare feet. But that’s where I drew the “cultural assimilation” line. I slapped on my Reeboks and threw on my Beckham jersey for some much needed inspiration.

Afterwards, Kyle and I were both a little sore…but in our minds it was well worth it. There were only 2 goals scored in the game. I assisted one and Kyle scored the other.

Way to represent, huh? 🙂

Clinic continues to be such a great experience. Working at making challenging diagnoses with an incredibly limited arsenal of tests has highlighted the importance of taking a thorough history and physical exam. Medicine is still an art that requires skills of deduction and observation. It’s what I love about it.

We had a pregnant woman come in who had a history of 11 pregnancies with 2 miscarriages and one child who had died in infancy. She was complaining of headaches and some lower extremity edema. Dr. Kubacki was surprised that she had so many children survive. In his experience in Angola, one-third of children born here don’t survive past their 5th birthday. This woman had “beaten the odds” somehow. When we measured her blood pressure, it was elevated. Our challenge was to determine if she had pre-ecclampsia, gestational hypertension, or if she was in labor. We worked our way through each possible scenario and treated her the best we could with the tools that we had.

The other challenging patient we saw was a 63 year old woman complaining of symmetrical weakness, fatigue, and persistent vomiting several hours after each meal. I performed an ultrasound to look at her liver, spleen, and kidneys. We found a few abnormalities but nothing we could really hang our hats on. The three of us put our heads together and came up with a list of differential diagnoses that fit the clinical scenario. It was challenging without access to the battery of tests that we would have had access to in the U.S.

On our drive to the clinic after lunch, Dr. Kubacki told us that he has gotten into the habit of telling his patients: “I am as much a counselor as I am a physician. So please tell me if there is any way I can help you.” He truly has a heart to serve these people. Something I hope to emulate. His attitude toward medicine and life have reminded me that I am here to serve. To participate in bringing hope and healing to those around me.

The realization of the life-giving freedom that comes with taking myself off of center stage has struck me in such a way that I know God has to be truly behind it.

Yesterday we attended church here in Cavango. Talk about an incredible experience! We sat near the front where all the children (and a fair number of adults) could steal easy glances at our white skin. If you’ve never been in an environment where you stood out starkly from the people you are surrounded by, I’d suggest giving it a shot sometime. The tension that it stirs up internally is absolutely beautiful in its ability to uncover insecurities inside of your heart that you didn’t even realize existed.

After the many songs and times of teaching, we left the four brick walls of the village church to stand outside and greet each other. People began to line up to shake our hands. There was one little boy who came through the line 5 times with a beaming smile on his face. As I stood there and saw each pair of eyes pass me in line, I wondered to myself: “If the lines on their faces could speak, what would they say?”

I love hearing people’s stories.

The local pastor here in Cavango has an incredibly moving story. His name is Jeremias. His face speaks a language that needs no interpreter. A face that has seen much pain, struggle, suffering. But that same face is dripping with love and a joy that is real. Joy that seems strangely detached from this life.

Jeremias grew up on the opposite side of the country. When he was 10 years old, the brutal civil war that ravaged Angola reached his village. So much of the fighting revolved around terror. Military groups would march into homes and dismember children in order to gain control through fear. When word reached Jeremias’ village that they were coming, he and his 21-member family fled. They found a dirt hole by a river. They huddled in together, filled with terror of being found.

It didn’t take much time for their nightmare to become reality.

The group of fighters riddled the hole with gunfire before savagely tossing in several grenades and walking away, satisfied that the entire family had been destroyed.

But they were wrong.

One little 10-year old boy survived.

Jeremias stayed in that hole for 3 days with the rotting bodies of his dead family, immobilized by fear and terror. On the third day, a woman passing by heard the cries of this precious child. She scooped him up and brought him to her home. For 2 years, she loved and cared for him as her own son. Because she was a Christian, she would instruct him “If anything happens to me, I want you to go find a church. They will take care of you because they are God’s people.”

This woman who became a mother to Jeremias was murdered when he was 12. Only two years after their miraculous meeting.

Again, he fled.

Eventually, he stumbled upon a village which happened to have a church building. He took shelter there for the night. In the morning, a few church members found him. Once again, he was offered a home.

When he turned 18, he decided that he wanted to become a pastor.

He relays why he made this decision: “I don’t understand why my family was murdered. But I believe that God has a purpose for suffering. I want to serve Him with my life.” Despite not being able to understand, he trusts.

The first person we met when we arrived here in the village of Cavango was the friendly face of Pastor Jeremias, smiling from ear to ear.

Yesterday during the service, he stood up and preached. It was a message about prayer. He boldly proclaimed the beautiful truth that God has a Father’s heart toward us and emphasized the importance of embracing that relationship. He continued to teach about how we can forgive those who hurt us because God offered the life of His Son to forgive us.

This man who last saw his earthly father in a bloody hole in the ground on the other side of the country…was introducing these villagers to their Heavenly Father. Tears welled up in my eyes.

These are the moments that I feel completely inadequate to describe with mere words on a page.

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2 thoughts on “Day 9: Hour 216

  1. Being in Angola is so similar to Uganda. We hear so many heart-wrenching stories from those whose face shines with the love of God! You will return knowing you were blessed more than your patients!

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  2. Hi Nigel..so moving…made me cry once again….I am so thankful you are able to have these experiences and meet these wonderful people. To read these stories makes my “so called” difficulties pale in comparison……The grave reality though, is that suffering brings growth and makes us taste and experience the holiness of God. We don’t want suffering, we don’t go looking for it, but the sweetness that can result from it is a life that clings to the Lord only. So many lessons to be learned…”Life 101!!!” Thank you for bringing us along with you!!! Praying for you and love you!!!

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