Monday, November 23, 2015

Rejoicing in healing

Last week I heard about some significant good work being done in Kasai – made more important by the backdrop of the suffering that it alleviates. In Congo (and in many developing countries), many women get a fistula in one of their organs as a result of poor medical care for childbirth or related to rape or sexual abuse. The fistula is usually in the bladder, the rectum, the vagina, or a combination of those or other organs. The result is usually that the woman ‘leaks’ urine or feces constantly. This means that she smells, and is therefore often ostracized by her family or community.

In October, just last month, one hundred vaginal fistula surgeries were performed during an intensive two-week period at Good Shepherd Hospital, the largest hospital run by the CPC in Kasai. Dr. Leon Mubikayi, a gynecologist and specialist in this type of surgery, came under the support of SANRU (an organization in Congo focused on rural health) to visit Good Shepherd Hospital, doing up to 10 surgeries a day during his visit. While about 50 of the patients came from Kananga and the surrounding areas, another 50 came from distant rural regions of a radius of about 200 miles, including Tshikapa, Luisa, Luebo and Mweka.

Nurse Kapinga Annie is in charge of the maternity, gynecology, and prenatal care division at Good Shepherd Hospital. She reported that most of the women received a fistula during childbirth. Some tried to have the baby at home in a rural area, and when complications caused them to stay in labor for multiple days, the baby died and their bladder or other organs were punctured in the process. Others did go to a health center, but the center and its staff were not equipped to deal with the complications. Five of the cases treated were fistulas received during surgery – usually a hysterectomy.

Nurse Kapinga Annie (far right, standing) with patients
who received surgery in October for fistula repair.

The surgery to repair a fistula can often take several stages or multiple surgeries, depending on the degree of complication or the size of the fistula. For example, a woman named Lusamba from the region of Katende went to the health center to deliver the baby.  It was her first pregnancy. She was in labor for 2 days before they referred her to the nearest hospital, where a C-section was performed. By that time, the baby had died from the trauma of labor, and she had a large fistula. Her husband left her because of the shame she brought on him, always smelling like urine. Now, 7 years later, she has had 3 surgeries and the fistula is finally completely repaired. She praises God and is overjoyed for this victory.

Of the 100 women treated, 17 had been living with a fistula more than 10 years. Another 21 had been living with a fistula more than 5 years. Three of the people treated were children. Two of them (aged one year and two years) were born with a congenital fistula. The third, a 13-year old girl, was impregnated by her brother-in-law. She delivered the baby, but with severe complications and a resulting fistula.

Nurse Kapinga said that it was a significant effort on the part of the hospital to provide the materials and staff for this intense period of surgeries. Dr. Mubikayi also came with some equipment, medications, and materials (such as specialized thread for sutures) donated for these surgeries. The staff changed the sheets on the beds of these patients twice a day.  They also washed their clothes to ensure that the patients felt a sense of dignity and felt clean and free from the smell of urine. Even though additional beds were put in the ward, because of the unusual number of patients some were placed two to a bed for recuperation. Dr. Mubikayi has come before to perform fistula surgeries, but this is the highest number ever performed in one visit. Dr. Mukendi, a staff doctor and gynecologist at Good Shepherd Hospital also does perform fistula surgeries occasionally, but the added experience and expertise of Dr. Mubikayi was helpful for the volume and degree of complication of some of these surgeries.

We are grateful for the significant impact in the lives of these women, achieved through the partnership of several organizations, including Good Shepherd Hospital. Nurse Kapinga said that the need for fistula surgeries in Kasai continues to be high, and she hopes that people in rural areas could be motivated to deliver babies in a medical facility, and that there also could be more training for the maternity staff at these health centers. We pray that these women who have found physical healing will also now be accepted back into their communities and families after many have lived for years in isolation and shame.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

‘Mission from the Margins’

Discontinuity, or stepping aside and into new situations and realities, is where we are shaped in unexpected and significant ways.  As an example, Moses was simply out tending the flock one day when he happened to see an unusual sight – a bush which burned but which was not consumed.  It was only because of Moses’ “determined seeing” at this perplexity that God chose to speak to him and reveal God’s purposes.  Moses chose to turn aside from his regular duties, and that is when God reveals His plans and purposes for enslaved Israel (see Exodus chapter 3).

Living in Congo, Kristi and I get caught up in our routines.  Life can almost become somewhat predictable.  How wonderful it was to recently host my parents.  They helped us see realities with fresh eyes. They were aghast at how difficult life is here.  They were angered that the government of Congo does so little to help the beleaguered population.  They were awed by the glory and beauty of this land.  To see this place through their eyes was a marvel and a reminder.  They had stepped aside from their everyday routines in the Bay Area (CA) and come to a place few choose to venture.  They came with eyes determined to see and hearts determined to understand the blessings and burdens of this land.  God only knows what purposes He has for them because of this experience.

Members of the English Conversation Hour, Kristi, and Steve and Gloria Rice -
my parents were enthralled to see the creativity and intelligence of these women,
but saddened by the lack of opportunity for them here in Congo

Two years ago the World Council of Churches ratified a new affirmation on mission and evangelism called, “Together Towards Life:  Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes” (TTL).  Apparently, one section of this affirmation, ‘Mission from the Margins’, has been the most popular, debated and contested.  It contends that people on the margins have agency - they can see what others miss; they are intimately aware of the forces which seek to rob them of life.  People like us, privileged by comparison, have much to learn from those living in marginal conditions (TTL, paragraph 38).

Personally, I believe that this concept of ‘Mission form the Margins’ is of profound importance for those of us involved in Christ’s mission in the world.  Mission has often been conducted from those of us in the center or privileged position to those on the margins.  Thus, mission has had and continues to have a paternalistic posture.  However, in Jesus, we find one who “relates to and embraces those who are most marginalized in society, in order to confront and transform all that denies life” (TTL, para 37).  He doesn’t come as one from above, but as one who is willing to stand alongside.  In fact, as Paul tells the Philippian church, Christ emptied himself, taking the form of a slave and being born in our likeness (Phil 2: 6 – 11).  Jesus was connected to the lives of marginal ones.  He stopped when he heard the cry of bind Bartimaeus.  He reached out and touched the unclean leper, meaning that he was now unclean by Jewish ritual and custom.  He allowed himself the shame of being fully cast aside by the religious establishment, being crucified like a common criminal outside the gate of Jerusalem. Jesus did not come as one from a place of privilege or power.  He came in meekness and poverty.  He gave agency to those who would decry the worldly and religious systems which had stymied them and forced them to the ground.  He came to pronounce the year of the Lord’s favor (Is 61), and he did so in solidarity with the marginalized whom he gave agency and voice to. 

What a prophetic and powerful way to think about mission.  Too often we are too keen to rub shoulders with the powerful and the rich, claiming our good intentions of doing so for God’s mission.  Yet, God’s mission begins and ends with the “least of these.”  For enslaved Israel, it began with an estranged exile going about his shepherding business.  For the people of first century Palestine, it began in a hovel where a child was born amongst livestock.  If we are neglecting voices in places of destitution and injustice and only feeding those ones crumbs from our American Pie, surely our good news is not the news of Christ our Savior.  “Mission from the Margins” – there is much to learn just by listening and going to places where others choose not to venture.  Surely, we will  be changed in the process.  Just ask my parents!                     

** This blog post was inspired by the journal article “Mission as a Burning Bush Experience of Semper Reformanda ‘from the Margins’” by Peniel Jesudason Rufus Rajkumar, in the periodical Reformed World, Volume 64.3 December 2014. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Basking in beauty

We had the grand privilege of taking a week of vacation around Victoria Falls. We were excited to finally see these famous falls in Africa – definitely one of the top items on our bucket list! Bob’s parents joined us, and we enjoyed seeing them after two years apart, and exploring the area together. Here are just a few of the highlights:


Often, you can see rainbows reflected in the mist. Sometimes more than one!


An early-morning view down the gorge where the Zambezi River falls to create the Victoria Falls.



A view of the gorge from the Zambia side. We were there at the end of the dry season – in a few months there would be water pouring over the cliff on the right side – the eastern portion of the Victoria Falls. But, the bare cliffs have their own rugged beauty.

Trumpeter hornbill, Bushbuck Lodge, Zambia

This is a trumpeter hornbill, seen in the yard of the lodge that we stayed in.
We were thrilled to see lots of new birds!


We went on a one-day safari to Chobe National Park.
This hippo was not too happy when our boat disturbed his nap in the mud!


We got to see lots of crocodiles, of all sizes.

Squacco Heron, Chobe Nat'l park, Botswana

I have to admit, one of my favorite things about this trip was the great variety of
birds that we saw, especially near the water. This is a Squacco heron.


Elephants, pawing the grass to make it free for eating. They are such majestic animals!

Male Kudu

This is a male kudu, with his distinctive cork-screw antlers and “frosting-stripes” on his back.


We enjoyed afternoon tea at the historic Victoria Falls Hotel.


We rode the Royal Livingstone Express, a steam engine dinner train


…and we enjoyed some good African food and culture!

All in all, a wonderful experience of this place we have wanted to see for a long time. Now, we are back in Kananga and back to work! We are grateful for the chance to give our bodies and minds a break, and enjoy soaking in the beauty of God’s diverse and amazing creation.