So much has happened since the last time I posted a message, I’m sort of at a loss where to start. This uncertainty has led to further procrastination in writing anything which has further compounded the problem. At this point, my goal is just to bring you up to speed on several fronts of our lives.

Geography

We are still living at Becca’s parents’ house in Galveston, Texas. They have been wonderfully generous as we have invaded their home. It’s been a joy watching Nathan get to know them and enjoy spending time with them. This will continue to be “home base” until we leave to return to Ethiopia. Over the next two weeks, my parents will be traveling here to visit and see us (ok, see Lydia ;)). In mid-September, we will travel to Dallas to spend two weeks visiting and catching up with people. I am personally really looking forward to this trip as this is where most of my friends are. During the first week of October, I will be traveling with Nathan to visit my family in Kentucky while Becca and Lydia hang out in Galveston. Then, on October 16, we will fly back to Ethiopia for another year.

Family

Lydia has been a real treat. I praise Christ that she’s healthy and growing well. She is sleeping next to me as I write this. She is, hands down, one of the most beautiful girls in the world. I know this because I’m a doctor :). Actually, though, I might just have to use some doctor stuff once she reaches dating age. My father’s stated plan for dealing with young men when my little sister starts dating is as follows. When the guy comes to pick her up, he’ll be sitting on the porch cleaning a shotgun. In the ensuing conversation on the porch, he plans to make it clear that he’s not a young man anymore and going to jail for a long, long time just doesn’t bother him that much. That may work, but I’ve got a better plan. Fear tactics are uncertain; they may or may not work. I prefer going to the root of the problem. My weapon is a drug called Lupron. It acts in the brain to decrease the release of a hormone that tells the testes to make testosterone. Basically, before Lydia’s boyfriend can take her out, I load him up on Lupron for a few weeks until his blood testosterone level is sufficiently low to prevent any… issues. No sweat, you kids have a good time!

I am extremely grateful to be back with Becca again. It was a difficult separation but I feel I grew a lot during that time apart. It’s great to be back, though. Becca is a real gem and I’m a blessed man to be her husband. She has handled the c-section well and is a wonderful mom to our two kids. As I’m trying to keep in touch with the events still going on in Soddo, her wisdom is always an asset and I seek it often. On top of that, she’s one of the most beautiful girls in the world. See above credentials.

Nathan has grown and changed remarkably in the last several months. I love watching his young personality develop. He seems to take after his mother in regards to his social development. It looks like we have a little extrovert in the making. We’ve had a lot of fun together. I can’t overstate how awesome it is to wrestle with and tickle your son. It’s better than a case of Prozac.

Ministry

We praise God for guiding us through our first year in Ethiopia. Through the challenges, He has proven His faithfulness and love and we have grown deeper in our relationship to Him than ever before. People have often accused us of being good people for what we are doing. Let me assure you that my heart is as jacked up as the next guy’s. It was God’s mercy and grace that reached into our lives and changed us. We still have a long way to go but God has pulled us closer. He gets all the credit. I can’t count the number of times God has given me the strength for one more day.

I believe that Soddo Christian Hospital has a bright future. For those of you that don’t know, it is a young hospital and it still has many problems and challenges. But even in one year we have seen encouraging improvements and God’s blessing on it is evident. Upon my return to the United States I attended a board meeting of the St. Luke’s Health Care Foundation, which owns the hospital. We had a chance to celebrate the good that God has done and also soberly look at some of the deficiencies we still face. We pray that God would continue to provide for those needs. We’ve added some pages to the blog that spell out some of those needs. Please take a look at them if you get a chance. They’re in the “Our Pages” section on the left side of the blog. Check out the various “Ministry Opportunities.”

It has been a positive year with the PAACS residency. We started off with the challenge of being placed on probation and facing multiple problems. God guided a difficult process over the year and improvements have been made. I don’t want to sugarcoat the situation, though. We still face big hurdles. It is uniquely difficult to train surgeons in Africa, across cultures, in the midst of poor resources and the significant barriers and burdens that are in place. To give just one example, most of the residents face the constant anxiety and pressure of being expected to financially support many of their extended family members throughout their training. And there are many others. Please pray for them and their training. They also have the distinction of facing even greater trials once they finish their training and go out to serve in their home countries. Please pray also for our continued efforts to achieve official accreditation by the Ethiopian government. This would greatly aid our graduates as they move out into the world. As an aside, please understand that the medical-legal situation in Africa is often different than what you are used to. The original goal of PAACS was to train surgeons who would work in mission hospitals. Therefore official accreditation would not be required. As we grow as an institution, though, we want to seek official recognition and this will also help our graduates by increasing the number of hospitals in which they might serve.

Sharing, Preparation and Contemplation

Our time in the United States has been rather odd. It’s difficult to explain. On one hand, it is our first real trip back since spending time on the mission field so we are dealing for the first time with the challenges of stepping back into this culture after getting used to Ethiopia. That has caused a lot of soul searching. On the other hand, we know this trip back is particularly unique because of Lydia. We simply can’t run around the whole time and visit people like we feel missionaries on furlough ought to be doing. So that is an added weirdness. It will undoubtedly take a few years to get a better handle on it all. Here are a few observations and thoughts.

Dallas will be my real chance to see this play out, but I’ve already discovered how difficult it is to talk with people about Ethiopia. Part of the challenge is discerning interest. Some people really want to know what it is like and what is going on. Some people just want a story or two. And some people really don’t want to know anything. But even when someone wants to know the real story, it’s hard to know where to start. There is very little common ground from which to start. Everything is completely different, from traveling, to shopping, to walking along the street, to eating, to relationships, to money matters, you name it. And that’s just everyday life. Throw in the unique area of medicine in a developing country and it quickly becomes overwhelming to say and hear.

It will take some time to get a better handle on it all, but I’ll say this. A good starting place with which to begin sharing Ethiopia with an American is poverty. It necessarily requires a paradox. Imagine a poverty you can’t imagine. Poverty shades everything in Ethiopia. Imagine a country where most people live in homes that are worse than our barns. Imagine a place where Christian communion is done with bread and home-grown honey because wine or grape juice costs too much. Imagine a place where wealth can pretty well be determined by body fat. Yes, there is hunger in America, but many, many people in Ethiopia are actually starving to death. As mentioned above, imagine being expected to financially support ten extended family members just because you have a job. Imagine a place where so many babies die that families don’t name their kids until they’re one year old. It’s tough. Now imagine this place trying to recover from a horribly repressive communist regime. Our hospital administrator remembers having gun held to his head multiple times, when he thought he was going to die. Most of the pastors in our area have spent time in prison for their faith.

Now, there’s plenty more but I don’t want to put it on a public blog. We’ll chat in person.

I am keenly aware of my need to use this time in the United States to prepare spiritually for the next year. All of the challenges listed above, and those unmentioned, don’t exist in a spiritual vacuum. I believe the Bible teaches that there exists a real spiritual realm that our eyes and ears can’t detect. Within that realm are forces of evil that vie with God for the souls of men. That is taking place right here in the United States and it is happening in Ethiopia as well. I also believe the Bible teaches that our only defenses in this struggle are spiritual defenses. As I look back on this last year, I realize that my prayer life was inadequate for the task. God’s grace covered it but I believe He is directing me to prepare better for the upcoming year. Not only for my own sake, but for the sake of my family and the work we are doing in Soddo, I need to be earnest and often before the Lord, seeking His counsel and strength and praising His might and power. Additionally, I hope to develop a robust prayer support here at home. My hope is to seek your prayer more than ever and also develop a distinct “prayer team” with whom I can share the full details regularly. Before we left for Ethiopia, I mentioned to people that I felt our success or failure would hinge not on financial issues but spiritual ones. I believe that more than ever now.

OK, there’s more to say but that happens when you procrastinate too long between blog messages. I’ll stop here. I love you all and deeply appreciate your support and prayers. In Christ, we are one body and we proudly carry you with us as we go back to Soddo. Thanks again.

Paul

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