For the last week we have been in Kenya at a Baptist conference center called Brackenhurst. This is the first-ever PAACS-wide Basic Surgical Science Conference. As I write this, it is Sunday afternoon and we will finish the conference and head back to Ethiopia this Friday. Although the schedule has been packed, it has been a wonderful time of recharging, fellowship, family and learning. All of the residents are with us and two incredible surgeons from the US, Dr. John Foor (general and vascular surgery) and Dr. Matt Campbell (general surgery, his blog is linked to his name), are defending the fort while we are gone. My heart goes out to them. At least I have the luxury of residents to take the first hits for me. It really drives home the reality that the Christian endeavor is not for lone wolves. We need each other and these guys are making this time possible. Thank you!

First, family. I have really enjoyed spending time with Becca and Nathan away from the demands of the hospital. We’ve had a lot of fun. Everyone in the cafeteria, I’m sure, loves to see us come in for each meal. We haul the high chair up to a table and let the festivities begin, including flying food, screams and diligent attempts to base jump from rails. Becca has really enjoyed spending time with the wives of the other PAACS surgeons. Apparently, we’re hard to live with and life at mission hospitals presents unique challenges for these amazing ladies. Hm. Seriously, though, we have faced a lot of challenges and struggles for which we are both receiving excellent wisdom from more experienced people who have walked the same road.

Second, PAACS. I am very grateful for the experience the residents are receiving here. Yeah, all the lectures and stuff is great from a surgical standpoint, but the real benefit is the interaction they are getting with residents and instructors from other programs. It shows them that they are part of something special and unique. It shows them they are not alone in their struggles. I hope it is developing a sense of camaraderie and pride and that they are developing friendships and relationships that will serve them for many years to come as these guys become a real force for Christian surgery in Africa. I’m also hoping that the guys see that I’m not so strict after all! I’m pretty sure one of the other program directors played the part of the gunnery drill sergeant in the movie “Full Metal Jacket”. (I know Christians aren’t supposed to watch R-rated movies, my bad. Don’t watch it if you haven’t seen it.)

Third, me as a surgeon in Africa. It has been a true gift of God to interact with these other men and women. In the struggles of day-to-day life in Soddo, it is easy to lose track of the big picture. I suspect that most worthwhile things done in the course of human lives take place in the midst of many, many days of unspectacular struggles without immediate results and maybe without much definite hope of ultimate victory. That is, you commit a lot with no guarantees of success and you just have to keep at it, trusting that in the end it will matter to God. I’m very proud to be a part of the Pan-African Academy of Christian Surgeons. God is doing something here! There are currently nine men and women who have graduated from PAACS and every one of them is serving Christ in rural Africa! This has really been an encouragement to me. I spent a lot of time learning some cool and advanced surgery in the US. Much of it I can’t do over here. For much of what I’m doing here, I wasn’t trained. No matter how good I get at it, I probably will never be allowed to do it in America. Basically, the longer I stay here, the harder it will be for me come back, to integrate back into American surgery. Believe me, I think about this. In the struggles of life at Soddo, with these thoughts haunting me, encouragement about the worthiness of these efforts is much needed and much appreciated.

Speaking of encouragement and appreciation, I want to say again how much you all amaze me in your generosity and support of what we’re doing here. Both PAACS and Soddo Christian Hospital offer a sweet monthly salary of $0 USD. We, and every other surgeon working with PAACS, are here because of people like you. This isn’t just our story. It’s your story! You own this and make it a reality. Thank you and may God be glorified and honored greatly by your love and support. I pray He blesses you for your obedience and involvement. We love you more than you know.

Paul

P.S. The food here is AWESOME. You know, when I was in middle school, I would celebrate the end of each agonizing day of school with a box of Cheez-its or Vanilla Wafers. Though I’m much happier now and my motivations are different, I still love the gustatory joy of meals here. Yum. Let’s hear it for beef, chicken and ice cream.

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