We are nearing our third year anniversary of moving to Ethiopia. In some ways, the time seems to have flown by. In other ways, it feels like we’ve been here so long, been pressed on so much, that it’s hard to remember what life was like before. So much has happened! Most of the time I (Paul) feel like a guy being dragged behind a speedboat. The majority of my energy and attention gets applied to holding onto the robe and not drowning. It’s hard to compress it into something that can be articulated in short letters. What I would like to do is share a little of my prayer life. Because the central theme of the last three years has not been Ethiopia or surgery or training. That is just the play in which the message is being communicated. The real theme is what Jesus has been doing, in our lives and in the world around us.

I smile a little at the popular evangelical understanding of the “quiet time.” For those of you unfamiliar with this, this is the euphemism for daily time spent reading the Bible and praying. Like nearly every other Christian I’ve ever met, I have struggled with this. I smile at it because of how we’ve turned something that is beautiful and life-giving into something that is tedious, chore-like and a constant source of guilt and embarrassment. But I’m not smiling with arrogance. I haven’t figured anything out. Yes, I can definitely tell you that this daily time in God’s word and in prayer with Him has become incredibly important and precious to me. It has become something necessary. I struggle to get through days without it. I love getting up early, showering, pouring a BIG cup of delicious coffee and settling into my spot in our dark living room, next to the lamp, with my Bible and prayer cards. And God has really used that time to train me and help me learn and grow.

But I’m not smiling with arrogance. Because I really don’t know how this change in attitude has occurred. It may be tempting to point to a stressful and strenuous life, of being thrown into “deep waters”, as I’ve written before. But that’s really not sufficient. Lots of people experience much worse. And I’ve been under lots of stress before. No, I really can’t chart it out. I think God has been very, very gracious. He’s teaching me to eat real food, to hunger for real things. He initiated it and He’s carrying it out. So I want to share a little of it, but in humility. God has been very good to us. Several months ago Becca and I read a book on prayer and, in addition to lots of good thoughts and theories, it has some solid practical advice. One idea was to use prayer cards. Nothing fancy or magical. Just some notes to help you to remember when you pray… and to help you focus on what you really want to pray for. So I’ll share a few with you, and let the cards recap what God has been doing in the last three years.

First, I’ll start with family. Sorry, bro, you don’t get to see my wife’s card! I love being a dad and I love watching my kids grow. But I know how much they need God. So most of my prayers revolve around their relationship with Jesus. If that goes well… the rest will take care of itself. I pray that they will be completely satisfied and enthralled with Jesus, and that God will guide them into that. I once heard an analogy regarding fire. We can’t light this fire, God has to do it. But what we can do, what God has commanded us to do, is stack up lots and lots of wood and kindling around them. We’ll do our best to build a home that is just waiting for a spark. And we’ll pray constantly for God to light it up. As the get older, and more of their character starts to unfold, I’ll add pertinent lines to their cards. But I figure their cards are not yet so personal that I can’t share them.

God has been doing a lot in this play here in Ethiopia and PAACS. It is exciting to already see the answered prayer. The last few months have been big times for the PAACS program at Soddo Christian Hospital. The accreditation in this country has been wonderfully strengthened. This includes solid acceptance by the Ministry of Health, allowing our graduates to be officially recognized as surgeons. Additionally, we were recently visited by an accreditation team from the College of Surgeons of East, Central and Southern Africa (COSECSA). We will have to wait until around September to get the final results, until after the next COSECSA council meeting. But it seems very promising.

We have been praying for new residents. Two new residents started last December. They are awesome guys! Solid residents and rock-solid brothers in the Lord. Two new residents will be starting this August. Moges is an Ethiopian general practitioner who has been working at Soddo Christian Hospital for the last two years. He is also the father of our little community’s latest addition! He and Ruth Droppers, the internist from the Netherlands who has been here for the last five years, married two years ago and are now the proud parents of little Ephraim. The other starting resident is Ronald Tubasiime, a Rwandan medical doctor. Both are, again, solid guys and we’re blessed to have them.

Myungsung Christian Medical Center (MCM) is a Korean-run hospital in Addis Ababa that has applied to teach PAACS residents. We hope to expand the PAACS program in Ethiopia to a two-site training center: both at Soddo Christian Hospital and MCM. God has even provided a leader for the teaching at that site. Dr. Chi Chung is a Korean-American general surgeon from California who has accepted a missionary position with Global Outreach and is planning to be in Addis at  MCM next fall. We hope to have residents there in a year and a half or less. Awesome news! But we need God’s guidance and wisdom.

And we continue to pray for housing here in Soddo. We strongly need on-campus housing for our residents. God keeps answering prayer; right and left. I am confident He will provide this.

Joy. This has been the central fight of my life for the last three years. And this is proving to be a wonderfully answered prayer. Life here is a test of foundations. What do you really need in life? Where do you really find your joy? There is a book by John Piper that I’ve read a few times called, “When I Don’t Desire God – How to Fight For Joy.” (You can find a free PDF copy at http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/online-books/by-title.) It has helped be better see the situation. I am commanded by God to be joyful and satisfied in Him. But when my crutches and illusions are stripped away, I see how utterly incapable I am for that. Over the last few years, and especially in the last few months, God has brought me a long way down that road. As a better Paul than me once said, “not that I have already obtained it… but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.” I really am learning to be joyful in Jesus! It’s hard to spell it out, but there is a palpable difference in the last few months (and it’s been a beating of a few months!). But I’m not there yet. So I’ll keep praying this every morning and trust that God will keep doing what He’s doing. Again, I don’t have any quick answers. I can’t even map out how He’s brought me here. I just know that God has done it.

This is very closely related to joy. I know this will come as a shock to those of you who know me well, but I’m actually fairly hard-headed and driven. I tend to see an obstacle and, well, smash it in the face. I know! I’m a complex, multi-layered mystery! As I’ve tried to do life here, it has been painfully obvious that I can’t do it on my own. The tasks are beyond me: husband, father, practicing surgeon, teaching surgeon, education administrator, medical director, yada yada. I’ve made A LOT of mistakes and watched my own inclinations lead me astray innumerable times. And frankly the load has been too much. The next card talks a little about that. But I need Jesus so badly. Either He does it in me, or nothing good happens. But I love the reality that God wants me to bear good fruit, that it brings Him glory. That is great news and gives me great confidence to pray.

A few months ago, I hit an all-time low. “Rock bottom” seems a little exaggerated, but it was at least a very painful ledge. I found myself skipping chapel one day, sitting in the surgery lounge, just staring at the wall.  We had a day full of operations coming up and there were so many demands for PAACS and the hospital that I couldn’t imagine how to even start. Then I just started weeping. Over the next few weeks, God used some selfless, generous, loving people to bail my butt out. We were given the chance to leave the hospital for ten days and find some perspective. While there, I wrote this card on wisdom. It became clear to Becca and me that I was trying to carry too much. I honestly thought I was doing what God had wanted (and who knows? maybe I was at that time…). But it was time to shift. Over the last few months, I’ve been letting some things drop. It’s tough, because they may not get picked up by anyone else. But I’m trying to learn to obey the Lord and not just the demands that come my way. I have even less answers for this than anything else. So I’ll continue praying.

Finally, to sum it up, I think one of the key reasons God brought me to Ethiopia was to teach me poverty. Yes, I’ve seen material poverty in a whole new way. God has radically changed my view point of material wealth in the last three years. But I am really struggling to grasp poverty of spirit. This is where I need to be. This is where I see what God is doing around me. I pray that I would grasp this truth: that the world owes me nothing, that God owes me nothing, that whatever I receive is grace and mercy. That is the soil from which a life of gratitude grows, from which joy grows. I believe this is where I’ll be able to see what God is doing in Ethiopia, and be able to run the race He’s given me.

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