I haven’t written anything in a long time. There have been several reasons. For a little over a month, it has been a dark time for me. There are times when the challenges, fears, anxieties and doubts pile up to the point it becomes hard to see beyond them. This has been a prolonged stretch and it has been difficult to muster the energy to do much. Too often taking the time to write something on a blog gets shoved off the list when the going gets tough.

But people have been praying and God has been, and is, sustaining me. Yesterday morning, I had to withdraw by myself to the hospital library after rounding on the wards and before starting the operative schedule. Unsure if I could face another day, I laid my head on my folded arms in prayer for about half an hour and I asked God to give me the strength to push on. I believe He answered that prayer and I was able to work through another day.

This morning I was blessed to have a sweet time with the Lord in the Bible and prayer. My routine is to get up early so that I can have some time alone with the Father before the kids awake and the demands of the day invade. I had just finished making the coffee and was ready to settle down with my Bible when Nathan started hollering from his bedroom. It was well before his usual wake up time and my first reaction was a frustrated sigh. But then I felt a twinge on my heart about sharing this time with him. I got Nathan up and asked if he wanted to read the Bible and pray with me. He gave his current usual affirmative response of “ehh”, and I made him some juice and carried him to the sofa chair with my coffee and Bible. The true miracle is that he actually sat still in my lap for nearly forty minutes while I read the Bible to him and we prayed together. He was even interactive when I was reading from the gospel of Matthew as he pointed to Jesus’ words and said “red!” and then to the other words and said “black!” And when I prayed, he folded his hands together and sat quietly, periodically interjecting a solemn “ehh”.

Life can be tough at times, but God is wonderfully merciful and His graces are many. I have an amazing family, including a godly, caring and wise wife and two awesome kids. I’m where God wants me to be and He is sustaining us all. And I have a great and deep hope because of my Savior and His gift of life to me. That makes all the difference in the world.

This morning I read an online article from the New York Times about 10 medical workers who were murdered in Afghanistan. It seems the Taliban and another insurgent group claimed responsibility and stated the victims were spying and trying to spread Christianity. While the article maintained that such murders were horrible and inexcusable, it did go to lengths to assure that the people were engaged only in humanitarian aid and were not proselytizers. One passage said, “Though many of the victims were Christians and worked for Christian organizations, friends and family of the victims denied the Taliban’s charges that they had been spies or proselytizers. ‘They try to be the hands and the feet of Jesus,’ Mr. Beckett said, ‘not the mouth of Jesus.’” The tone of this article seemed similar to what I get from other sources in the modern world. Though murder is probably not an acceptable response, proselytizing or spreading Christianity is, in general, a distasteful thing and ought not to be tolerated, or at least it should be discouraged. It’s OK and even admirable to do nice things. But don’t talk about Jesus.

The man who made the quote above is the father of one of the victims. My heart goes out to him and I mean no harshness to him. This distaste of being the mouth of Jesus has always been in the world, but I think it has become more obvious and saturated with modern media. It has even affected much of the Christian church today. But this is not Biblical. We are commanded over and over again to proclaim the gospel of Jesus. The apostle Paul repeatedly asked for wisdom and courage to proclaim the gospel well, with clarity and with great results. In all truth, there is no more loving thing a Christian can do than tell someone about Jesus. I’m learning more and more how this is what brings hope and light into this world.

One of the reasons life has been so dark here is because of the suffering I see every day. I’ve had people express envy to me that I get to see such tangible results of my ministry here because of working in surgery. In reality, though, there are many times when I wonder what on earth I’m doing here. I’ll illustrate that from yesterday. We started rounds in our ICU with three punches to the gut. One lady on whom we had operated the day prior for a horrible abdominal infection had died. There was another young man that I had operated on the day prior who had had a catastrophic complication from intestinal surgery. He is very sick and we weren’t even able to fully close his abdomen. At every dressing change, we’re looking at his intestines. In our setting, I don’t know if he is going to survive. Lying next to him was a man who was stabbed through-and-through with a spear. He has been through a couple of operations and I’ve faced an injury pattern I’ve never seen before. I’ve done everything I know how to do, including a difficult chest operation, and nothing seems to be working. We only had one chest tube to put in his chest at surgery and it was enormous… much bigger than I would prefer on such a skinny fellow. His lung isn’t doing well and now the skin around the tube has so fallen apart that the tube was no longer functioning. I don’t even have another tube to put in. In despair, I pulled it out and committed him to prayer. Later, as described above, I was praying in the library after rounds. The first operation I did was sent in by my Ethiopian partner as recurrent gallbladder infections. We opened the abdomen planning to remove her gallbladder and were met by a belly full of cancer. It was everywhere. We took a biopsy and closed. This morning we explained to her that she was going to die. In clinic, yesterday, the first patient was a woman who had received an operation for breast cancer at our hospital three months ago. She now has large, hard lymph nodes above her collar bone and deep in her arm pit and she has a mass on her back. The cancer has spread and is advanced. We explained to her that she was going to die. Nearly every day, I see three or four patients in clinic with advanced cancer for whom I can do nothing.

If all I do is medicine, it’s crippling. It’s crippling theologically because, in the end, all medicine is palliative. We’re all going to die. Medicine can’t save anyone. But Jesus can save. But it’s also crippling on an emotional level. For so many of my patients and their family, Jesus is the only hope and cure I can offer. There is nothing else. If all I offer them in the face of their overwhelming suffering is my paltry medical attempts, and I don’t tell them about Jesus, I haven’t loved them. Jesus is the best I can offer! And I see that over and over again.

Back to the issue of the distastefulness of proselytizing; let me tell you about the woman who died. She came in extremely ill with an acute abdomen. She was markedly dehydrated and in septic shock. We resuscitated her with IV fluid and took her to the operating room. Before putting her to sleep, though, we asked her about her faith. She said she was a Muslim. I confess that my first response was the popular one. Surely it was distasteful to talk to a person in such a miserable and vulnerable state about religion. And I confess that I started with a half-attempt, a compromise. Through a translator, I told her that I cared for her and that I served Jesus and would like to pray for her if she was willing. But I began to feel convicted that I wasn’t showing love but giving in to fear. So by God’s grace, I began to gently explain that someday we are all going to stand before God and that we have all rebelled against Him and done evil. But God loves us and Jesus lived the life we were supposed to live. And Jesus died to pay the penalty for the life we have lived. If we will put our trust and faith in Jesus for our right standing before God, we can be saved. I asked her if she was willing to do that. She said no but she was willing for us to pray for her. So we prayed that God would heal her and save her. And then we operated on her and did our absolute best to help her, both in the operating room and after. She died the next morning.

My heart is heavy for her but I know that we showed her love. No coercion took place. There was no violation of trust or misuse of power. There was no lack of respect for another human being’s religious choice. We pointed a fellow sister toward the Savior that has brought us hope and life. She said no. We still loved her and did our best to help her. I don’t regret the care we gave and I don’t regret talking to her.

The world has always rejected Jesus and it always will. But He has given me hope and He is giving us strength to keep going here. I love Him and His commandments too much to not want to be his mouth in addition to his hands and feet. Though I fervently pray otherwise, the world may someday kill me too. If they do, and the accusation is proselytizing, I hope someone reports that I was indeed guilty of spreading Christianity.

Paul

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