The next morning would start spiritual emphasis week here at CURE. This year’s topic was on growing into Christ’s fullness. Ephesians 4:13-16 was the passage that the traveling preacher had quoted. It says once we grow into mature men in Christ’s fullness that we will no longer be like little children tossed around by human cunning and the ways of the world and then Paul finishes with challenging each one of us to grow into Him. No doubt I had already been growing since I had gotten to Kijabe, but the way that the pastor laid out the message really gave it a new concreteness. Intentionally seeking God and striving to be filled with His presence every second. Intentionality.
As our day started at the hospital I trekked up the grassy hill with the path laid out for me from its previous travelers. Today I would observe the orthopedic workshop. Four men, some students and some teachers made up the orthopedic team. In their little workshop they had everything that they needed to process the prosthetics, orthotics, and shoes used for correcting deformities. Each made by hand. Numerous hours had been put into each and every product that came out of that workshop. While I was there, the team sent 220 correcting shoes, varying in sizes to South Africa. Mind you it took them only 2 days. I was blown away at the work ethic, and the genuine regard for their work. All I could think about was back home how much people would complain about having to make these by hand and that most of our prosthetics were made by a machine. Seeing it in this light, a country away, I had a new appreciation for every prosthetic that I saw and could see the love pouring out of each one. After helping and observing for the day at the orthopedic workshop I began to make my way back down to the house, but on the way I stopped by the ward.
My friend from yesterday greeted me with that same warm smile and cold handed shake that he had given me the day before and in that moment I could tell that we were becoming friends fast. I got right down to it. I asked if he had decided on Christianity or Islam yet. He told me that he had not, but he was continuing to read the New Testament that he had from yesterday. So I took that, applauded him for his pursuit of correct knowledge and walked around and visited with my other patients. Their pictures were still on their nightstands, for the ones that were there and some of them had left. The patient’s bed’s that had been discharged were now filled with new smiling faces, eager to meet the mzungus (white people). I gave hellos and played with balloons for a little while until something called me back to my new confused Muslim/Christian man.
I walked over and wasn’t sure what I would say. I was nervous and started to stammer as I approached him. I wasn’t sure what was about to come out of my mouth. I told him that Jesus loved him, just like I had written on the picture and given him. I told him that God had let our paths cross for a reason and that I thought that God had wanted us to meet. I told him that Jesus loved him again, adding that I hoped I had shone him the love that Jesus had for him. He told me that I had shown him that love and that he accepted it. I wasn’t sure what that meant, but in my heart I could tell that I had made an impact. After all, it wasn’t me that was going to get him to know Jesus. The only way to Jesus is Jesus, if that makes any sense at all. So I thought that by showing him Jesus’s love that Jesus would be able to handle the rest.
The walk down the hill to the house I started so happily, but as I got closer to the house I thought about the implications that it had back home. Because back home I hadn’t ever asked anyone about Jesus. But in another country, I could talk to a man of a rival faith about Him. Right in the heart. God was showing me that I wasn’t living up to my potential back home. And I realized that if I could speak to a Muslim man about Jesus through a language barrier in a different country, a different continent, then I could do it back home. So that’s what I’m working on now.
After a tear filled night of prayer followed by that familiar embrace, I found myself falling fast asleep in our two bunk, bedroom. The first day at the CURE hospital hadn’t disappointed and I couldn’t wait for what tomorrow would bring. Compared to my classmates, I had adjusted to the jet lag relatively well and found myself waking up earlier than most. Those quiet moments while some still slept, I spent with God. From the house that we were staying at, there was an unbelievable view right past the opening of the front door. As you look out, the vastness of the land was almost overwhelming. From the porch, straight ahead was the valley, Kijabe being nestled into the side of the mountain just a few miles up from the floor of the valley. Panning right, the plains of the valley brushed themselves up right next to Mount Longonot, one of the higher mountains in Kenya which doubled as a volcano with a crater at the summit. As you look left from the porch the valley climbs into a plateau and then makes its way back down even with the valley. If you looked closely, you could make out the small towns in the valley, and closer still you could see the individual villages and houses that made up part of the Rift Valley community. God had painted His canvas here in Kijabe with the most rewarding colors, giving us just a glimpse of His beauty with each brushstroke. Needless to say, breathtaking.
So every morning I would start my day here. Right in His creation. In the still, clear, quiet morning. Just to be with Him. I would sit there in pure awe and adoration at our Creator’s handiwork. Mesmerized. Taking time to read His word and just spend time with Him. Back home it was so easy for me to be in a rush and have some excuse not to make time for God. How? Distractions. Something that in the long run is worthless was getting in the way of something that is the long run. Psalms 4:2. It’s comical that when we find our faults God shows them to us again. I found that verse shortly after I thought about not making time for Him.
Today I would be in the ward. The ward was made up of 4 sections with 6 beds in each. This is where the patients were, think of it as one big hospital room. I had heard the stories from the day before of the kids that we would be seeing in the ward and my excitement was piling on. I love kids. For some reason, I feel like that I can connect with most of them, maybe that’s just wishful thinking, who knows. The morning started with vitals for every patient in the ward. As I made my rounds, I begin to meet the patients, figure out which ones knew English, which did not, the names of the patients, and tried to get a fill for their knowledge of the Lord. Their ages varied, their conditions varied, their languages varied, the tribe that they were from varied, their backgrounds varied, but one thing was the same. If you smiled at them, they smiled back. If you played with them, they played back. If you loved them, they loved you back. The trip could have finished here, just seeing the smiles on their faces. Not because I had never seen smiling patients before, but because I knew the reason behind those smiles. See this isn’t just an ordinary hospital. This hospital changed lives. When you go from not being able to walk, or run, or play, to being able to do all three and more, you have reason to smile. When you’re loved, for some it could have been the first time-I don’t know their stories, but when you feel loved you smile. Lives were being changed, and that’s a reason to show those pearly whites.
Before I had left the guest house that morning I had grabbed my Polaroid camera. I thought when I packed it, that I would be able to get some good shots of scenery, or of me completing that cliché of holding an African baby. But when I pulled it out of my pocket to snap the first picture something had changed without me even knowing. I thought of all the pictures that I had back home. I looked around. Most people had one bag with them, no pictures. I met a man traveling with his son who had packed his things into a briefcase for the extent of his trip. I asked him if he had any pictures of his family and he pulled out two tattered pictures of himself and his wife from what appeared to be high school stained brown with age. He didn’t have a picture of his little boy who was around two years old. So from there I decided that those pictures I had so selfishly intended to take back home and add to my ever-growing collection could be of better use. I took the first one of a mother and her special needs son and handed it to her. The second, of a young boy who had come to the hospital by himself. The third, another young boy with no caretaker. The fourth, a father, his son, and a friend. The fifth, the man with the two pictures of himself and his wife, as he sat there with his little boy whom he now had a picture of. As I went out for lunch I wondered if those pictures had meant anything to them. But when I came back, it was clear. The younger boys had their pictures by their bed. The mother, wrapped up in a paper towel in her purse. The man and his son, in his briefcase. And the father, his son, and a friend were still looking at theirs.
It was then that I had a thought. Most of them did not speak English, so I went around and picked the pictures up, got a pen and added a caption at the bottom of each photo. Yesu anakupenda. Jesus loves you. When I returned the pictures, I got warmer smiles than I had ever seen. They understood. They knew what I wanted to tell them that I couldn’t get across in English. But later I decided that love didn’t need a language.
As I made my final rounds towards the end of the day at the ward, I came across the father, his son, and a friend. The father was reading the New Testament so I asked if he was a believer. He gave me an answer that I had never heard and that I wasn’t exactly prepared for. He told me that he was 50/50. He explained that he had grown up Muslim, but was now curious to find out which religion was the correct one:Islam or Christianity. After talking with him a while and finding out his thoughts, I told him that I would be praying for both him and his son for his surgery that was coming soon.
*In trying to recollect my thoughts from the trip last week, I want to go day by day. That being said, the rest of the story about the Muslim man will continue in my next post.
The end of the work shift ended and I walked back down to the house. By this time the sun was setting, painting the vista that I had seen that morning with new oranges, reds, yellows, showing the change of beauty even in the same location. As I thought back on my day, the one thing that really made the most impact on me was giving the pictures to the families. In my mind, I had made an impact. I had shown them God’s love by caring for them as patients, talking to them, playing with them, and so on. But at the same time, I had given them something concrete for after I’m gone, after they leave the Christian hospital and go their separate ways to remember His love for them.
That was my prayer. That those children never forget that they are special. That they are loved. That they are beautiful, not just in my eyes but in His. Because I wasn’t sure that they had heard it. In a perfect world, every child hears that they are loved, and wanted and needed. But our world isn’t perfect, in fact we’re a long way from it. And for these children that were born with these deformities and defects, my concern wasn’t what they hadn’t heard, but what they had heard from this cold, cruel world. Shouldn’t they know that they are loved? Beyond measure? That they are needed? That they are wanted? Desperately? Such is my prayer, that the children and families will never forget the love that Jesus has for them and that those pictures will remind them of that. As for us, I think that it’s just as important. And sometimes that’s hard to believe or tell yourself, but it’s true.
Jesus loves you. wants you. needs you. thinks that you are beautiful. can use you. will take you back.
Morning breaks. The sunrise steals my breath. Today would be my first day in the CURE hospital. The first rotation that I was to observe was the operation room. As I make my way up the path from the house we were staying at to the hospital I saw men cutting grass by hand on the hospitals land. I could already tell it was slower here. Simpler here. When I reached the hospital we all gathered together in a meeting room. Morning Devotion. This morning devotion was done not only this morning, but every morning before the hospital opened up its doors for patients. This was a first for me. It would be unheard of in the United States for there to be a hospital wide devotion before opening hour. Again I could see God’s presence here in Kijabe.
After the morning devotion, we received a tour of the hospital grounds. As we made our way to our respective observation locations after tea time, which while we’re on the topic is something that should be adopted here in America, I was greeted by everyone that I crossed paths with. People go out of their way to say hello, as I thought back to everyone passing each other by back home. The community aspect of life is top priority in Kenya. Taking tea at 10 and 4, speaking and greeting at every available moment I was taken aback by the welcoming nature and hospitality shown. The people were so different. But I knew what the difference was. I had known as soon as I had arrived. God. God was there. God was in their hearts. They lived for Him. It was intentional. It was genuine. And for the first time I witnessed a people that lived entirely for God. 100%. No distractions. And then finally it hit me. Here they had nothing. But at the same time they had everything. All that they have is God, and that’s enough. Here we have God and everything thing else that we could imagine, it’s in that our relationship dwindles. So that was my prayer from the first night forward, for God to take everything I have and replace it with Him, for Him to literally be all that I have, because that’s not how I boarded the plane. Little did I know that was how I would get off the plane.
Out of the rabbit hole, back to the story. Because of the tour of the hospital, we reached the operating room midway through an operation. As I donned the OR scrubs, surgeons cap, and face mask, I thought to myself of all the operations that I had been in back home, doing so I went through the motions rather rhythmically. I had no idea what I would be walking into. The OR, or theater as they call it there, doors open and I walked in. At first glance I see a leg opened on the table to the right. I looked closer and there wasn’t a body attached to the little leg that appeared to be smaller than half the length of my arm. I realized then that this wasn’t America. This wasn’t a regular operation that I would have seen back home. This was raw. A 3 year old little boy’s leg had been removed at the knee. Amputation. I tried to swallow, but the air in the room was thicker than blood. My heart sank into my stomach and I was sick. But then I looked closer and saw that the little leg that was lying on the table had severe clubfoot. So then the wheels started spinning. After this surgery, this little boy would have a normal life. He would be able to walk with the help of the orthopedic workshop were the men made prosthetics of all shapes and sizes by hand. And there I found rest. What I first took as such a traumatic event, I saw the silver lining. Hear me, it wasn’t easy to stomach. There was sadness, markedly when the little boy awoke from the anesthesia and grabbed at where his leg was prior to falling asleep, or when he tried to get up and walk on the stretcher. I won’t pretend that didn’t rip my heart out. But I had hope. I could see God working for the better of the little boy. He wouldn’t have pain anymore. He would be able to run and play, close to what a normal child could, possibly as well as a normal child as I heard from some. There were stories floating around that the prosthetics that were fitted there at CURE were seemingly flawless, as most patients couldn’t be guessed as having lost limbs.
This was the first operation. Throughout the rest of the day I witnessed multiple more surgeries of healing. Having walked in late to the first operation, I missed one of the most vital aspects of the surgery that took my words and filled my soul. Behind the computers, the anesthesia machine, and the surgery table, there was a large yellow flag with letters that read “STOP. PRAY.” And they did just that. Before every surgery the doctors took time to pray. I had been in numerous operations in the United States. Most “Christian” doctors. None had prayed. They all took the task into their own hands. Just another thing that screamed God’s presence in the lives of the people here in Kijabe. I was overjoyed.
After the day at the hospital was over, we all met at the soccer field and played a pick up game. Doctors, nurses, technicians, children, anyone who wanted to join. Community. After laughing at the lack of skills that the white people had, we came together after the last whistle blew. Then we prayed. There was such a genuine, intentional love for God. A longing to serve Him and be with Him. It was amazing. Day two. Better than the first. And I was on an uphill journey, as the week would keep getting better and better.
Inspiration. The entire day I was inspired and moved by the servant hearts that each person at the hospital had. These were real followers of Christ. Per the book, they weren’t fans, they were followers. 100% committed. All for Him. Everything they were for the kingdom’s cause. Thus is my prayer. For my life to scream God’s presence. To have nothing but Him. In the spiritual leader’s words, “There’s either God, or God.”
The plane touches down. You weren’t lucky enough to get a window seat so you wonder what this new outside world will look like. The place that you always dreamed of going, the place where they are in so much need, the poorest place in the world, the starving babies on the commercials. Africa. But when you step out onto the tarmac, it’s just black. You had forgotten the time change, and that it was 8 hours different from what you were used to back home in your comfortable little life. You aren’t able to see the lay of the land because night has already fallen, so you make your way to the hotel that has been prepared for you just outside of Nairobi. As you make your way to the small two bed room complete with mosquito nets and bottled water, you can feel the lack of blood in your legs from sitting on them for 17 hours straight. I guess that it was time for bed, but how could I sleep? My first mission trip, my first time flying out of the country, my first time coming to Africa. My mind was speeding through scenarios. And in trying to calm my thoughts, I began to clear my head of any expectations that I had for the trip. I wanted to go in with an open mind for whatever it was that God wanted to happen on this trip. And there was where I found my nerves letting go.
The next day we attended church at the African Inland Church at Milimani where we caught the end of the Swahili service and then stayed for the remaining English service. If you haven’t heard God praised in Swahili, then you are missing out. I was overwhelmed, and tried my hardest to fight back the tears that so desperately wanted to be let out. To be thousands of miles from home, and when you wake up the next morning, God is there. I know that we all know that God is everywhere all the time, but sometimes it takes seeing something for it to really materialize for you. And that was the case with me. It was such an incredible feeling to know that my God was here in Africa. And that the same God was being praised by the people here in the same way that I praise Him back home. That was the first time that I was really able to grasp the concept of God existing everywhere at once, as childish as that may be.
As church drew to a close we made the trek from Nairobi to the mountain town of Kijabe about 30 minutes north. As we drove, I began to see “real Africa.” I saw the poor. I saw the poverty. I saw the homelessness. The sadness. The filth. But it was nothing that I expected. I expected I would have a sense of helplessness and that I would be overwhelmed with what I saw. But it was different. Because in all that devastation, and in all that poverty I think I experienced true joy. In the faces of the little boys talking and laughing on the side of the road, or the little girls that were chasing one another in the field, I saw that raw, unadulterated joy. There weren’t complaints. There weren’t distractions from what was making them happy. They were in the moment, grateful to be alive. With nothing, they were happier than most of us who have everything. This wouldn’t be the last time that I noticed this.
The sun was beginning to set as we drove to the top of the ridge. The road veered to the left and people on either side stared as the bus full of Americans turned into the Kijabe station road. At the turn off, the locals had their shops set up selling fruits and vegetables, shoes, souvenirs, crafts, and whatever else that they had to keep themselves afloat. We made our way down the dirt road, weaving back and forth to miss the potholes, big ones at least, the brakes were hot enough on the bus that you could feel them through the floor board and smell them with every breath. When we pulled into the CURE International hospital mission I could tell that there was a different atmosphere. The people started to wave, the kids started to smile and make excited waves back rather than the cold stares that we had been used to in the city from the night before and the ride that morning. So as the van came to a stop at the bottom of the hill, parked on the side of the mountain that had been terraced out to fit the building on, and there was a moment of silence before the doors slammed open and people began talking about how excited that they were to be there. In that moment, I could tell God was there.
As I looked out through the top of the half tinted bus window I was drawn into the sunset, sliding down right over the mountains in front of us. It was like nothing I had ever seen before. Here come the tears. I was overwhelmed by the beauty. It screamed God’s signature. The most beautiful scenery that I had ever seen, in the place that I would have least expected it. Wasn’t Africa grasslands and dessert? No. Africa was beautiful. From the moment we pulled in, I knew that I would never be the same. And it was only day one.
Tonight I’m overwhelmed. Tomorrow I’ll be heading to Kenya for 10 days on a medical mission trip. I can only imagine the things that I will see and the way that God will change me.
Tuesday night, I heard a sermon at 12stone college night based on being Jesus to people. I don’t think that was coincidence considering my upcoming trip. God is already preparing me for this opportunity, I can tell. Wednesday, after being asked as a collective group if we were being Jesus to people, I got my chance to show Jesus. On my lunch break from my clinical rotation, I was headed down the road and I came across a man walking down the interstate. I drove on past. But then God started talking. I could tell that I was supposed to go back and give him a ride, wherever he was going. Driving past him wasn’t going to show Jesus’ love to him. Driving past I was just like every other car that had passed him that day. When I came across him, it was around 12 o’clock. He had been walking from Atlanta. And from Habersham county to Atlanta is around 80 miles. That’s a lot of cars. None had stopped except for me, and even then it was on a second thought, a prodding from God. So I turned around. I pulled over and asked the man if he wanted a ride he gave me a big smile and said sure. After he told me his name, he told me he was walking from Atlanta to West Virginia to “start a new life.” But he wasn’t dressed for that long of a trek. He had the clothes on his back. No book bag, no suitcase or anything. He asked me how far I was going on the road and I told him that I would only be able to take him to the gas station. So we pulled into the gas station and I gave him 20 dollars that I had for some food. He shook my hand, hugged me, and I could tell he was on the edge of tearing up as he walked into the gas station. I scrounged my truck for anything that I could do without, or anything that I thought that he might be able to use. I had my bag packed with some of the stuff that I would be taking to Kenya in the back of my truck so I found a clean pair of socks, and gave him one of the spare t-shirts that I had from the fundraiser to help send me to Kenya. Then I saw a spare water bottle that had been rolling around in my floorboard since I had gotten a new one, and a can of peppermint candy. As he walked inside, I rounded up the rest of the stuff that I had found that he might be able to use. I walked in and asked someone sitting at the table if they had seen a homeless looking man, given that’s what he resembled with his tattered outside layers of clothing, and they told me he was washing up in the bathroom. When he came out I gave him the socks, peppermint, and water bottle that I had filled up. And as I handed it to him he told me that he had thrown his two outside layers away and had put on the shirt I had given him. I told him that I wished that I had more to give him, or that I wished I could have taken him farther than I did as he put his new socks on, outside on the curb. While we sat there and talked for a little while, a well dressed man parked in front of us and walked into the store, and back out again, practically stepping over us without a word either way. I told him, Andy was his name, that God loved him and then I went on my way.
I don’t know if the man passing us outside on the curb was a Christian, I don’t know if the hundreds of cars passing Andy on the interstate had Christians in them, but I’m assuming that they did. How many times do we pass by someone in need? How many times do we turn our heads when we see something that we could do? I’m in no place to judge, or to tell anyone what to do, but I think something needs to change. And this was the basis of the sermon that I had heard the night before I was tested by meeting Andy. People need Jesus. People need to be shown Jesus. And we’re the ones that need to show them. Love people like Jesus did. Isn’t that what we’re called to do? People need to know that someone out there loves them. I wonder when the last time that Andy heard that someone loved him. I don’t know his past, but I assumed that it was pretty ragged, but isn’t everyone’s? Don’t we all want to hear that we’re loved, unconditionally?
The sermon really struck me hard on Tuesday. And I think it was God getting me ready for the mission trip this coming week. I don’t think that there is a better way to tell people about Jesus that imitating Him, given most people learn better from watching, or physical learning rather than just hearing. When people see can see Jesus shining through those who follow Him, I think they can understand who He is, and the love that He is. I pray that I can be Jesus to everyone that I encounter from here on out, Kenya this week and Georgia the week after, because there is an extreme need for Jesus in this world. I think we can all agree on that. Let’s show them.
This week I got a call that I wasn’t prepared for. Cancer called, and my grandfather picked up. I think that the statistic is 1 in 3 people will have cancer at some point in their life, or something like that. But most of the time, I’m not thinking about between me and two other people, one of us will have it. Definitely wouldn’t think that my grandfather would have it. But he had gotten it, some way or another. When I got the call, it was strange. I had gotten phone calls before with terrible news on the other end, deaths of family members or pets or calling in the family to the hospital to say goodbye’s, but this time was different. There wasn’t the initial shock and rush of emotion, that usually appeared and presented with tears. There wasn’t a question of why, or anger, or not understanding or comprehending the situation. There was just a feeling of accepting. No harsh feelings, or really even sadness.
All the other times in my life that I had lost something, or gotten bad news, I wasn’t walking with God. But now, since I’ve started to walk with Him, and put my trust in Him daily there’s a new outlook. And it had developed before I even knew. But as soon as I got the call from my mother telling me about the cancer, I could sense the change. I could tell that I was different. I could tell that everything wasn’t about me anymore. And I think that surprised me. Because it wasn’t anything that I had changed, but it was something that God had changed for me. Allowing me to put Him first, no matter what. So when I got the call, I was just able to realize that it was God’s plan and I wasn’t in any place to understand or even question His plan. And I think that, that in itself gave me comfort, just to know that God had changed me. Maybe He had prepared me all along to get that news, and that was in His plan. Either way, I’m so thankful to be walking with God and to be at a place where I can appreciate and accept His plan, no matter what, no matter how hard it may be.
All of that isn’t to say that I won’t question, or that I won’t understand, but I do want to make a conscious effort in trying to put God at the wheel. Putting it on autopilot and letting God drive, letting Him take me where He wants me. Of course that’ll be hard, but considering the way I felt in His arms when I got that call, I can’t imagine not trusting Him with anything. There’s so much trust when He’s in control, which He always is. And I hope that I can continue to feel that way and keep my trust in Him, because He knows what He is doing. He’s got me.
I think sometimes when it starts to storm on the plane, we want to grab the wheel and drive ourselves out of the stormy weather and into the blue skies, but there’s a reason that we’re going through that storm. So if we just let God be our autopilot, He’ll get us through it. I am a firm believer in that. That’s what I’ll do, give it all to Him, because I can’t drive through any storm by myself.