Paul here. As Becca has already written, we are back in Soddo and settling back into life. The last four weeks have been, for lack of a better word, unique. I am so thankful for the outpouring of love we have received during this time. It is absolutely amazing to me how many people were praying and writing emails and reaching out in very tangible ways. It blows me away and I am grateful.

Our community here in Soddo was so loving and supportive. God has really blessed us in putting us in community with these people. The care and medical advice of Ruth Droppers, the loving prayers of the Karnes’, Jon Pollock (our brand newly arrived surgeon) completely taking it on the chin for me and the loving prayers and support of his wife (equally brand new to Ethiopia); all of it was beautiful. Jon held down the fort admirably. He seems to have had a few ‘coming of age’ cases, but he handled them like a pro. And Asle, our Norwegian anesthesiologist, was amazing. He gave such selfless and tender care to me and my family during this time. One of the greatest physical blessings he gave was being present during a lumbar puncture. After I had received a few unsuccessful attempts with a rather large bore needle, and electrifying agony down my right leg, Asle gently asked if he should give it a try. His aim was blissfully true and he allowed the successful completion of a procedure for which I was about to throw in the towel. But even more profound was the love, wisdom and encouragement he shared. Honestly, at the time of our transition to Addis, my limited insight never considered the possibility I might need transfer out of the country. Asle really helped me work through that limited insight. He helped teach me about what it is to be a patient and yield to the authority and expertise of other people. I don’t know how much of it came from my being a doctor or just being me, but I had a few moments of being a lousy patient. But I think Asle helped me to improve. But the thing I’ll probably remember most was the encouragement he gave me a few hours before I got on the plane for South Africa. I was physically and emotionally worn out. I was forced to stare at my own physical frailty. And in the midst of all this my precious wife was stuck with handling all the logistics of our family and how to get to South Africa; and there was nothing I could do to help. He pulled up next to the bed and reminded me of Jesus’ words in the Bible where he told the disciples that all power had been given to him. My savior, who loved me and was watching over me, had all power. He encouraged me to rest in that knowledge and he prayed with me. Again, God really has put us with some great people.

But it wasn’t just here. It was the larger community of faith to which we belong. I am so touched by how many people have been praying for me. The emails and words of encouragement were beautiful. I wish I could adequately express thanks, but I really don’t know how. God provided beautifully for us in the family of Chris and Miriam Forget in South Africa. It’s just like God to arrange it so that the daughter of our obstetrician/gynecologist here in Soddo lives twenty minutes away from the hospital I was transferred to. They were so loving and accommodating during our time. I am deeply appreciative of them. Also, I have a college friend named Andrew Arp who is now a children’s pastor in the US. While in the hospital in Johannesburg, I was visited by a young mother carrying a care package. She told us she knew Andrew Arp and that Andrew had gotten in touch with her about our situation. She had come to tangibly express the love of Christ. Additionally, after I had been discharged from the hospital, I received a phone call from another pastor in the Johannesburg area who also knew Andrew. He too gave more expressions of love and offers of help. As Becca mentioned, through contacts with one of the families joining us in Soddo in the next year, a kind and godly man named Karel visited us in the hospital and even provided us with a phone during our stay in South Africa. Karel had spent many years serving the Lord in Africa and he added to his ministries with us.

I could truly go on and on. Our mission agency has been awesome. The people of PAACS have been awesome. And the care and service we received from our insurance and evacuation companies were first rate. As I was being strapped into the plane from Addis Ababa to Nairobi, I was deeply struck by how blessed I was. I had already received the best care available in the entire country of Ethiopia. This was a service that most of a country of maybe 90 million people would never have access to. Not only had I received that, but I was being sent at great price to receive even more. Who am I to deserve that? Am I special because I happened to be born in the United States? What makes me different than those other 89 million people? It reminds me of one of the things I’ve been praying for: poverty of spirit. I can honestly say that there is nothing in me that is inherently deserving of these blessings. I can’t give a compelling explanation for it beyond the fact that God has been so kind to me and my family. And it drives me to gratitude. I am so thankful for God’s kindnesses. Outside of his gracious goodness, I don’t know why he has done it, but I am deeply thankful for it.

So what have I been learning from all this? I may never be able to fully answer that, but the sense I’m getting is one of quietness; quietness and trust in the face of an almighty, sovereign God. I am fully convinced that God is the ultimate source of everything that has happened, including my getting ill, all the moving to and fro, and our return to Soddo. God put me on my back with an illness that, in the end, we couldn’t identify. God took care of my family and me throughout it all. And, at least for now, God has made me better.

In saying this, I am not in any way diminishing the reality of a spiritual struggle. Satan is real and there really are dark spiritual forces who would seek to harm and destroy. Indeed, I was reminded by Jim Brown; previously the PAACS program director at Ngoundere, Cameroon, and currently helping to lead the PAACS program at Mbingo, Cameroon; that in the last couple of years at least four PAACS instructors have been laid low with weird and mysterious medical problems. There undoubtedly is an element of spiritual struggle going on. But God is sovereign over even the activities of evil beings. There may have been some that meant this last month for ill and for harm. But God’s word assures me that for those who love him and are called according to his purpose, God causes all things to work for their good, to conform them to the image of Jesus. This has given me great comfort in these last weeks.

What is interesting is that my grasp of this reality isn’t a new thing. God has been walking me through this truth of his sovereignty for several years now. Rather, this illness experience has been a time where this beautiful truth of God has been taken off the pages and out of the books and into flesh-and-blood experience. God took us on a field trip and the lesson has a deeper meaning than before.

But I want to focus on the idea of quietness, particularly in contrast to the sovereign goodness of God. One thing I need to be very careful to articulate is that I am not, and never have been, some saintly sort of person who glides through life with his hands folded serenely in faith, eyes glistening with love as he gazes heavenward, and a perpetual smile of joy gracing his face. I’m a missionary who struggles not to cuss while muttering to myself while stomping from the hospital to my house. I have tried in the past to convey that it has really been a struggle to submit my pride and ego to the Lord as I’ve lived and worked in Ethiopia. The surgical staff at the county hospital of my surgical residency host a graduation dinner each year. At my graduating class’s dinner, after working five years at the hospital, I discovered that one of the defining characteristics they pegged me with was that I was generally angry at that hospital and that I considered it a ball-and-chain around my ankle. Ouch. Very humbling moment for a guy who was slated to go to the mission field. And, indeed, the same internal struggles that produced that assessment have been active during my time here. I am a broken pot. And no matter how badly I wish I could do it, I can’t glue the pieces together. I don’t in any way consider these last few weeks as a divine kick-in-the-pants wake up call to the reality of these struggles. By God’s grace, I’ve been seeking his lordship and wisdom in these areas for years, and even more intensely in the last few months.

But I do think God is using this time to speak in a very tangible way about the nature of the life he has called me into. I think the message I’m hearing is, “Be quiet, Paul. Be still. You talk too much and you’re too busy. I will accomplish my will. Wait for me and trust me.” He brought me low with something we couldn’t even diagnose, much less fix. And then he brought me back. It was all of the Lord. (I realize that on a scale of suffering, this really was just a splash in the shallow end. But it was still a strong reminder of my frailty.) Becca and I have been reading through a Bible reading plan and, as it happens, one of the books scheduled for September is Isaiah. Though I got rather behind during my time in hospitals, I was able to catch up during my week in South Africa after discharge. What strikes me about Isaiah is how blatantly unilateral it is regarding God’s interaction with the world. The book has nothing but judgment and condemnation for humanity. It doesn’t matter if it it’s talking about Israel or any other nation. There’s nothing redeeming or good to be found. And, as unflinching as it is in that regard, it hammers home again and again the greatness and incomparability of God; man’s faithlessness again and again compared to God’s infinite worthiness. But in spite of this vast contrast, the book of Isaiah repeatedly announces God’s intention to bring mercy and healing; to fix the problem. And it is completely unilateral. God is going to do it. God will accomplish it. There is no hint of partnership or division of roles.

In the struggle of trying to follow God, it is good to be reminded that this is God’s show. He started it and he will finish it. One particular line in Isaiah really impressed itself upon me. It is from Isaiah 30:15:

“For thus the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, has said, ‘In repentance and rest you will be saved, in quietness and trust is your strength.’”

I really don’t have any profound revelations. But I have a strong sense of God’s gracious love for me and my family. And I am newly reminded of my smallness compared to his greatness. There seems to be a new sense of quietness and rest in my heart and I pray that God would lead me deeper into that.

Advertisements