I totally saw a lemur the other day. Unfortunately it didn’t break out into “I like to move it, move it” in an Indian accent. A little disappointing but I’ll get over it…
I thought this was just going to be a medical trip. But it’s turning into so much more than that. And I am simply delighted. I am definitely learning medicine. But this experience is hardly limited to that arena.
According to Dr. Kubacki, the two hardest things about venturing into the world of medical missions are:
1. Leaving the familiar. (I’m going to be honest, there is something so attractive about staying where I am comfortable. Never deviating from what I know.)
2. Learning the language. (This is such a huge struggle because it often takes years to get to any level of proficiency.)
He has spent a gracious number of hours simply conversing with Kyle and I. No deadlines. Nowhere to go. Just dialoging about medicine and life. Sometimes on his porch, other times on the dusty roads of Cavango. The counsel and wisdom he has given us is like a mine of sparkling diamonds. I feel so overwhelmingly blessed to be soaking up lessons that have taken him 50+ years to learn. Wisdom ranging from medicine to our walk with Jesus to marriage (and everything in between). I would write some of the things that he has shared — but I can’t. This would quickly leave the “blog” category and enter something more like the “Textbook on Life” category. Not gonna do that to you guys.
A few other missionaries: Gary (pilot), Jason (mechanic), and Ryan (Jason’s 9 year old boy) arrived at the Kubacki’s house the other day. They drove here with a bulldozer loaded on one of their trucks in order to begin working on an airstrip in Cavango. It took them 48 hours to drive here with all the equipment because they had to stop and bulldoze a few sections of the road that were impassable. As it stands, if a patient out here needs immediate surgical attention, Dr. Kubacki has to make the 10 hour trek to Lubango. Having an airstrip for one of the mission planes would give these precious villagers faster access to medical help.
The past couple of days I have been helping Dr. Kubacki in the clinic in the mornings and then traveling out to the airstrip to help the guys construct it during the afternoons. Some of the local villagers made large wooden stakes for us to use as we make the measurements for the project. Working out in the hot African sun is incredible. Not only am I able to look over my shoulder to a scene that looks like it came right out of “The Lion King”, but more importantly I am privileged to be able to be a small part of building something that will help countless of Angolans in the future. The guys constructing the airstrip are awesome. I’ve had some good talks with them and learned so much about various topics relating to mission work.
We joined Betsy and Meredith (Dr. Kubacki’s daughter) again yesterday for English class. It was a total blast! They let Kyle and I teach part of the lesson and it was quite the experience. So many laughs as we traded phrases like “I am hungry” and “I would like to eat” in Portuguese and English. I love the challenge of attempting communication in that setting! One of the Angolan men in the class was chuckling as he explained to me “If I have to learn English, you have to learn Portuguese.” I heartily agreed.
In the clinic, we continue to meet some incredible people. Yesterday morning, a former pastor of the local mission/church in Cavango heard that the Kubacki’s had visitors. He arrived early in the morning wearing his suit (think unwashed Goodwill) in order to meet and honor us. The fact that he has severe asthma didn’t deter him from making the walk to where we were staying.
He hugged us both.
And we hugged him back.
That’s just how they roll here. It is a culture founded on genuine respect and honor.
One of the patient’s we saw in clinic today was a government official with osteoarthritis who came to see us because a friend of his had been helped by a steroid injection that Dr. Kubacki had given him. He reported that anti-inflammatories had not improved his pain much so I injected his knee (under the watchful eye of our fearless leader).
Dr. Kubacki has been teaching us and giving us lots of practice using point-of-care ultrasound to help in diagnosis. Ultrasound is a beautiful tool that works perfectly in the missionary-medicine context. With no access to CT’s or MRI’s, he has developed into an ultrasound “jedi master.” Maybe one day, with practice, I will be as good as he is. Today is not that day.
We have seen plenty of malaria, rheumatic endocarditis, heart failure, tuberculosis, and the list goes on. Talk about a crash course in “majority-world” medicine. Dr. Kubacki is an incredibly proficient teacher. He really has gone out of his way to ensure we are receiving the best medical experience possible.
In his pre-clinic talk today, Dr. Kubacki gathered the 15-20 patients around in a circle and began telling them the story of when Jesus healed the blind man in John 9. He explained how everybody was asking Jesus “Why was this man born blind?”
The villagers quietly listened. Cultures differ in many ways but we all experience pain, loss, and suffering.
And we all ask the same question. In different ways, perhaps — but we are all looking for an answer.
Why do we suffer?
Why do our bodies get sick?
Why do our hearts get broken?
Why do we have to lose the ones we love so dearly?
Jesus answers. But He doesn’t explain fully. He says we suffer so that God can be revealed to us and others. Dr. Kubacki continued to teach. “Jesus rejects the notion that the blind man was born that way because he had done something wrong.” What did Jesus do right there?
He tells us that our suffering has purpose.
Now if Jesus had stopped there, it might seem cruel to simply say that we suffer in life to bring glory to God. But He didn’t. He bent over and spit in the ground. He spit on the ground and began making a pile of mud. To the shock of the crowd, he came up close to this blind man and began gently pressing the mud onto his eyes before telling him to go wash. The man did as he was told — and his eyes were opened. For the first time, he could see.
Dr. Kubacki had everyone’s quiet attention.
Jesus tells me that my suffering has meaning. He gently stoops down beside me if I allow Him to and joins me in my pain. The Son of God became a human like me in order to know me. In order to win back my heart.
You know, my American mind wants all the answers, right now. I really do. I want to understand everything — every tear I’ve cried, every pang of hurt I have felt. I want an explanation.
But Jesus wants me to trust. And to walk with Him. Content with the knowledge that He is beside me.
And once I go through the painful process of embracing that truth, He asks me to be the “dirt and spit” that He uses to alleviate the suffering of those around me. What an incredibly humbling thought. Sometimes the simplest truth, when grasped, can have the deepest impact.
All of this was pulled from a 7-minute conversation between one doctor and a group of villagers. Go figure.
The past year has been incredibly challenging for me. Maybe it has been for you too. This first week in Angola has reminded me of some things that had become clouded to my heart. Questions that I desperately needed answers to are slowly, slowly being surrendered. I’m learning that the secret to life is to take myself off of center stage and to simply trust and walk. But I know that I still have a long way to go.