Thursday, September 25, 2008

Introduction to Love

I originally posted this in mid-June of this year. A friend of mie asked me post it again....

I have experienced Jesus in the flesh. No, this isn't the first time. And I pray it won't be the last. We were on a mission campaign in Swaziland, Africa. The morning had started off with the awesome responsibility of being called to compassionate action. We were at Thulwane carepoint. Thulwane is the place we had viewed video's of Tom Davis' blog. This is the place we have read about on the blog of Kriek and Jumbo . I already had this particular morning planned out in my mind. I would spend some time with the children as they ate breakfast. Then I would help other team members administer some meds at our 'clinic,' while at the same time I would be able to enjoy the sights and sounds of my oldest daughter, Alexis, as she continued the path of being a Godly young woman. But something happened that will forever change the way I view missions. The experience I was soon to live would literally shape the way I viewed life and love.

In order to fully feel the scope of this experience, please take a moment to watch this video:

Crystal Baltimore came to me and said, "Hey, remember the girl in the wheelchair in Tom's blog? Well, she is over here and we are about to feed her." Wow! We met Pastor Walter just the day before - now, I get to actually see the little girl on the wheelchair. My family and I had watched that video at least 50 times. There she was. Little Nedia sat there on a mat in all her Royalty. She was dressed like the Queen of Thulwane. A red velvet dress adorned her bruised and battered body. She quietly ate her generous helping of food from her royal plastic bowl and with her spotless right hand. There was the Queen in all her splendor. I was speechless, as was the rest of our team. At that moment, a rush of emotions came over me. I was angry that she could have been violated in such sick, evil ways. Then confusion creeped in. How could someone physically abuse such a precious angel? It was obvious from early on that Nedia not only had been assaulted both physically and mentally - but she had also been neglected since Tom had posted the video of her from late in '07.

Then it happened. The defining moment of where the rubber meets the road. This was it - where the 'Red Letters' of the bible come to life. There was Jesus dressed in the distressing disguise of the Queen of Thulwane. My heart was wrecked. My sense of justice was awakened. As team members began to prepare for the clinic, I was able to spend some time with Nedia. Just me, her and the Lord. At first, I wasn't sure of what to say. Or what to do, for that matter. I had never met a queen before. I had heard of them and seen them on TV. But this was for real. So there we were. Just the three of us. What was the first thing out of my mouth to her? "Love." My big moment in the history of important moments - and all I could say was, "Love." How did she respond? "Love!"

I have experienced love in so many ways in my life. Love for my parents and sisters. Love for Ashley and our four children. Love for my friends. Love for my work and those I serve. Love for God and for my church. Love for missions. But this was the manisfestation of what Jesus was talking about in Matthew 25 when he talked about the poor. This was exactly what he meant. To be continued...

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Remembering Swaziland

A new friend of mine, Candace Gladfelter, posted this note on her facebook page. Wow. Our team visited this same hospital in June of this year. We have not been able to speak of the experience. Maybe by Candace sharing this note - maybe we can begin to go back to the day we were there and deal with all we saw, felt, smelled and touched. Candace gave me permission to share her story. I trust it will have the same riveting effect on you as it did me.

Remembering Swaziland

This is a paper I wrote for my English class. Our subject was to write on a place that had changed you as a person. Let me know what you think. :) The moment I walked into the children's ward, death crept over my body, grabbed hold onto every sense, and slowly smothered away any ideals I had thought had applied to the “real world.” I saw helpless individuals wasted away, AIDS making them half of what they once were. Screams of pain assaulted my ears, making me wonder where mercy now lay. The smell of decaying flesh and disease was stifling. My mouth was fed a slow I.V. of salty tears. But touch, oh the touch! If compassion has any place in your heart, you will be forever changed the day you gently rock a sobbing mother back and forth, as you both stare at her dead, precious baby that had been breathing only moments before. As the decomposition of my inner strength continued at this fatal pace, I began to wonder what I had gotten myself into. Welcome to the Manzini Hospital in Swaziland, Africa: home of the highest AIDS rate in the world.

Six months before this life changing experience, I signed up for an adventure to Africa as a means to escape the misery I had created for myself at home. Little did I know that when misery is in your soul, it follows you everywhere. It lives in the cracks and crevices of your heart that you allow the world to make. It feeds off your depression and drinks of your tears.

Time passed quickly, and it was now my eighteenth birthday. My confidence was soaring. I had said goodbye to everyone and everything I had ever known, boarded a plane (without looking back), and had been living in a foreign country for a week . . . in the Dark Continent no less! My head was filled of acclamations of “You are so brave!” and “I could never do what you are doing.” Looking back, the pride I took in my "accomplishments" left only one direction for me to go: down. Quickly and harshly.

Nothing brings you crumbling to your knees faster than when you finally understand the definition of ultimate suffering.

I was unaware of my overzealous, bombastic attitude as I strode towards the front gates of the third world country hospital. Why wouldn’t I be? It had been continually pounded into my psyche from childhood that “The world was at my fingertips.” and I should even grasp beyond my own planet and “Reach for the stars!” Needless to say, I was a tyro optimist. But today was the day that I stopped being a naive idealist and started being a realist with high ideals.

My steps slowed as I walked towards the women’s ward. The unsterile, gruesome environment was a far cry from the advanced, technological medical facilities I was used to. The long, empty hallway whispered eerily of neglect. The sound of a delusional woman, screaming and struggling inhumanly against the cloth straps that held her down, will be forever embedded into my memory. Curious, I asked a woman in a bed nearby to translate her morbid shrieks. The answer sent chills up and down my spine.

“She speaks of black demons flying in to get her. She is pleading for someone to make them go away.”

Death had already begun to rear its ugly head to sneer in my face. I saw a woman lying on cardboard, shivering, dying, and all alone. As I cautiously eased myself down next to her, she raised her head and looked up at me with dark, hollow eyes, begging for something more than the life she had been given. Flies crawled over her disease infested body, and the maggot eggs that had congealed in her ear made me want to gag. She grasped desperately to my skirt, dragging her head into my lap. As my hands slowly went up and down her arms, then legs, then to her stomach, I realized that not only was this woman dying of AIDS, but she was gradually starving to death as well. Her frame couldn’t have possibly been more than sixty pounds, and her height surpassed my own.

With my morale crushed and my eyes now wide open, I warily stepped into the hallway of the children’s ward. Little did I know that I would be emotionally crawling out the front gates. What I saw disgusted me. Four-year-olds with broken legs tied to boards above their heads, forcing them to lay stagnant for weeks. Babies only a few weeks old heaving and choking on their own vomit. Mothers hovering and praying, fasting and weeping, begging and pleading to God for their children’s lives. I watched as a young boy had his fractured arm set into a sling without any pain medication. Screams of torture filled the room, but the nurses didn’t even flinch. They left as quickly as they had come and left him weeping, struggling to control himself. Not knowing how to comfort him, I trudged to a room where a tiny infant lay listlessly in a crib. Chaos soon ensued thereafter. Suddenly the baby struggled for every breath, the fluid in his lungs making it almost impossible to receive even one healing gasp. I started to sob when all I could do was squeeze my hand through the bars of the crib, lay it on his course African hair, and pray for mercy as I watched uncaring nurses roughly shove a tube down the unnamed baby’s throat, into his chest, and violently suck out the vile yellow fluid that was so ruthlessly blocking his airway. The situation calmed and I moved on the next patient that I found I had enough courage to walk up to. The baby died a week later.

So on my eighteenth birthday, I was given so much more than the American tradition of having the right to gamble or buy tobacco products. My eyes were opened to the world and all its suffering and injustice. The only downfall was that I was crushed, wounded, and left almost immobile in spirit. The things I had seen had brought me to wonder, "Is there any hope left? What is mankind doing to itself? Where is God’s mercy?" This is where I changed. It wasn’t the torment of my spirit that molded me, for everyone has their own type of misery. It was during the process of rebuilding my shattered heart and finding God in the pain that my worldviews and faith became what it is today. Instead of a commercialized, Americanized, churchified religion, I received a personal relationship with my Creator. No religion involved.

“You don’t have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body” (C.S Lewis). This became a mantra of self preservation. Instead of focusing on the rotting of flesh that went on around me, I poured my energy into making sure that people’s souls were preserved. Instead of seeing death, I began to see the beginnings of new, perfected lives. It would have been cruel for their suffering to have been prolonged. The experiences and memories I made in that hospital with my dying children brought faith and perspective to an otherwise sheltered and egotistical approach on life. The hardness around my heart melted, the cracks filled, and I began to look for ways to show Love. “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (I John 4:16).

I have been called ridiculous, charismatic, narrow-minded, religious, hypocritical, self-righteous, and too many other adjectives to matter. How ironic it is that the individuals who make such claims are the ones who are most ardently seeking an answer to their wretchedness. The strength it takes to bring backbone to your faith has affected every aspect of my life. The death I saw in that dirty, hope deprived hospital, not only refined, defined, and overtook my faith; it gave me the ability I needed to stand up for what I had been so placidly following my entire life. It became more than words spoken from a pulpit, or apathetic readings from the Bible; it became a means of survival for my soul. Survival begets necessity, necessity begets respect, and respect begets love. That is where it all started . . . and the adventure has just begun. I love my God. Africa and its creeping death forever changed my life. My heart is now full, focused on the future, and living in the Grace that I know as Abba.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

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Monday, September 8, 2008

"Celebration" ...Seriously?

The International Herald Tribune (NY Times) published an interesting article on the 40-40 Celebration recently held in Swaziland. After reading this, I am actually nauseated. I just don't get it. The 'royal family' is living the life of luxury while people are dying every minute. This is one of the most impoverished nations in the world. A 'full life' is one in which a person lives past their 30th birthday. We visited a homestead in which the oldest person was just five years old. Wow. I just don't get it. God, help us.