Sunday, April 21, 2013

Hostility --> to Love

Dear Friends,

HOSTILITY --> to Love.

I'm sure in reading this title, you expect some great story of God's redeeming love and transforming power in the life of a student, a nurse or a Gabonese woman I'm discipling in a Bible study.

You're right, the first part is true -- except this is in the life of someone else - the life of me.

 Not what you expected from your faithful missionary nurse serving in the African jungle?

I have heard many paradigms to describe the process of cultural adaptation. They all seem to revolve around  words like CHAOS, bridges, Settling, UNSETTLED, Squaresville to Roundsville, NEW home. However there is one paradigm that has stuck with me as I've moved overseas.
It comes from a dear couple with whom by some "chance" meeting I met on a train coming back from the Paris airport, at a point when I was missing home, tired and discouraged. They had served many years in embassies and in missions during their career, and amidst lifting my spirits with their joy and compassion, the advice they gave me was this: 

Honeymoon -- Hostility -- Humor --Home 

They said, "you will probably transition through every stage when you move to Gabon. One might be longer than the other, but the important thing to remember, it that HOME is coming."


I don't like that word. 
I don't think there is any positive connotation one can retrieve from it in our language.
I shuddered at the thought that this would one day describe me. 
Then, 6 months after moving to Gabon, I found myself smack in the middle of it.
It came on suddenly like a savage fever and left a bad taste in my mouth. 

I was frustrated by everything around me it seemed.
There were little things like not ever being able to finish baking before the swarm of ants plague the kitchen, the lizards who claim our entire home as their outhouse, the drop-dead-ly snakes who play tag outside our front door, the oh-so-lovely mold that covers everything from socks and jewelry to sweatshirts and passports. (I'm surprised my hair wasn't molding!)
And yet those are things we can deal with, or adjust to. But there were things I could not fix, things that ran deeper. These were my perceptions at that point in time:

Unteachable spirits among the hospital staff. 
Lack of spiritual growth and depth in the National church.
Mentalities of entitlement.
Hoarding of knowledge. 
Persistent blindness to plank in their own eye amidst teaching in the National church.
Patient care centered on needs of nurses instead of needs of patients.

Acting out the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man with some of the ladies for their Women's Spiritual Retreat

For a couple months I was able to shadow one of the discipleship courses held at a local church. Along with being trained to teach the course later at the nursing school, I enjoyed the opportunity to get connected with believers in a small group setting. The study was deep and thorough and highly applicable. I was impressed by the material and the amount of personal study each lesson involved. It was exciting meeting the group and they seemed to have some really good discussions. The weeks passed, and every Friday evening the leader and I would watch as the attendance waxed and waned dramatically. 16 to 3, 8 to 5. Save 2 faithful men in the group, the rest were like playing Russian Roulette.
It was hard not to feel discouraged, but as the study drew to an end, the numbers started remounting up to 16 and it became time to review what God had been speaking to us and sharing it with the church. 
The leader, David -a deacon of our local church- asked one of the men, a long standing Christian who had faithfully been there every week, to share what he had learned that would help him to continue growing in his walk with the Lord.
I sat there in eager anticipation to hear how God had been working in this man who had been so faithful in the study each week. 
His response: 
"To pray to Jesus and obey the 10 commandments."

My brain did a double take. 
That was it.
A "yes Johnny that's right" Sunday school answer. 

What happened? Did I have unrealistic expectations?
I asked David about it on the way home.
He said, "It's interesting that you should notice. It has been one of the things most frustrating for me in moving to Gabon from my home in Burkina. The Gabonese do not seem to have a desire to go deeper with God. They do not hunger or thirst for something more. They are content with where they are at, as though it fulfills all their needs."

I felt disillusionment.
Then dreadful sorrow. 

What treason to become satiated with spiritual immaturity.
What loss to become inebriated by spiritual milk.

Visiting one of the local pastors and his family while hosting a vaccination clinic in his village

"Go to Réa." I was walking past the doors to Réa, our hospital's ICU/ recovery room on the walk home from church, when I very clearly heard the Holy Spirit say this to me. He had said something when I woke up that morning too, I was getting ready for church and it was as if God was like, "oh by the way, while you're putting on your mascara, don't forget you're going to stop into Réa today." 
I had thought it was a little odd, but one of the patients had coded a couple days before so I thought maybe I needed to check on her. 
So I walked in and she seemed fine, but across the room in the corner I could see everything was not ok. It was Eric (see previous post). He was having trouble breathing, his mom and dad were rocking beside his bed, weeping -as if it was already too late, and standing around his bed were three of my 1st year students who had just stopped in to say hi and were now standing there -having never seen anything like this before-with that stunned deer in the head lights look.
Oh Boy. I dropped my purse and Bible down on a chair at the nurse's desk and ran over to Eric's bed thinking to myself, "great idea to wear this dress to church today Amanda."
I started assessing Eric and what was going on as I called out equipment for the students to grab. 
We couldn't get a blood pressure or an O2 sat, and his heart rate was elevated. He didn't have any IV access, he was drifting in and out of consciousness and was having trouble breathing. Oh crud, we're in trouble-  and I'm all alone. I quickly glanced around the room for what resources I had. 
His bed is the furthest from it.
I see four portable oxygen concentrators across the room. 
I go to grab one - it's chained and padlocked to the wall. No key. 
Same for all of them. 
"Oh right!" I think to myself. "I forgot we do this because if we don't bolt them to the wall, people will just walk off with them- because in the this culture, everyone shares everything material. Wonderful!"
Ok, Plan B. 
Move Eric to the Oxygen. 
"Well," I think to myself, "he's a quadriplegic, so, he's a big guy anyway and he'll be a complete dead weight. (No pun intended if we can't get something figured out soon!)" 
Plan C -move the bed.
Frantically we all start trying to push and pull his bed. Six of us! Nothing. Doesn't budge one inch.
I look under the bed for what could possibly be blocking us. 
It's the weather of all things. 
The humidity here destroys rubber to sticky, crumbly pieces, and rusts metal together. 
His wheels were completely rusted and the rubber was half crumbled off of each one. That bed was not going anywhere. 
Ok, Plan D.
Send one of the students to go get an unchained O2 concentrator from the nearest place- across the hospital in the medical ward.
Ok, our hands are tied with the O2 until she gets back.
There's one above his bed. --- Of course it is the only one in the entire room that doesn't work. Great.
I sick one of the students on constant manual BP duty and start looking for IV access on this guy, send a student to try and see if any of the Doc's are lingering around outside talking after church and start yelling and tapping Eric trying to keep him engaged with us. 
I need help.
Is there a nurse?
No nurse. 
Then I remember- we are so short staffed, that on nights and weekends we don't have enough nurses to cover everybody, so there is no nurse in Réa, someone just comes in to check in from time to time. 

By this time Eric starts vomiting. 
I am just praying for extra help and that God would spare Eric. 
In walks the student with the O2 concentrator that she had to roll from across the hospital on the gravel to get it to him. We hook him up and he finally has O2- we start getting an O2 sat.
I'm not finding any veins.
In walk Zach and Jen, 2 of our surgeons who, praise the Lord,  were still out talking after church. They come in and start getting set up to put in a central line. The reinforcements are here.  
We give him O2, fluids, some other treatments, his vital signs stabilize and later we find out he needs surgery, but he's going to be ok. 

I was so relieved and so thankful to the Lord for helping us and saving Eric. 
And I was so incredibly frustrated how everything had transpired. 

I don't know if I will ever forget the powerlessness I felt as a nurse,
standing there with a deteriorating patient, 
with 4! oxygen sources in the room
and all of them just out of reach and bolted to the wall.


What was wrong with me? Didn't I love the Gabonese people? Isn't that why I came to serve the Lord here in the first place? Now here I was, feeling hostile and bitter towards them. It wasn't just feeling bitter that I was in Gabon, it was feeling that way towards them, as a people. 
Why am I here? What am I even doing here? If they don't want to grow spiritually, don't want to receive teaching professionally, if they don't want to see their work at the hospital as a ministry to their own people, then what in the world am I doing here? If no one wants to take a leadership position because culturally the rest of the group will just see them as a target because they tried to be better then the rest and they'll just shoot him down, then how are we ever to hand over this ministry to the Gabonese people? How is this ministry ever to be independent? How are we to work ourselves out of a job? How are we to pass the baton for the Gabonese to reach their own people for Christ? 

My heart and mind and soul wove themselves into these elaborate knots. 
I remembered the counsel of that sweet couple on the train from Paris. 



HOME is coming.

I went to one of the more experienced missionaries on the team and sought counsel. 
What do I know? 
I know that this phase is a normal and expected part of the cultural adaptation process. 
What do I not know? 
How do I navigate through this period in a productive and God-honoring way?

After she listened to me vent for a LONG time, we prayed together.
Then we came up with a game plan.
Then we prayed again. 

I had been spending a lot of time in prayer just communing with God and refilling, but hadn't spent a lot of time praying specifically for the ministries I was involved with, the people who I was touching. 

So I committed to pray for this group of people that I was specifically involved with- everyday.
So everyday I brought them before the Lord.


By a couple months later, the hostility had been erased. It wasn't instantaneous and it wasn't conscious. 
I didn't wake up one morning and suddenly say, "hey, I'm not hostile any more!"
But gradually I began to feel a foreign presence in the depths of my heart and soul - a Love that did not find it's source in me.

Did I not really love the Gabonese when I committed to come here 2 years ago? 
Of course I did. 
But I believe God is teaching me that love in ministry is kind of like romantic love.
There is an initial love, we could label it an infatuation, that develops.
This infatuation is not worthless, it has a purpose- it is motivating and inspiring, it commands our attention and moves us to respond. It's the love we feel when we see an orphaned child, the desperate need of an impoverished people or an urgent need for a position that we have the skills to fill.
We learn about the people and see them from afar, and we don't understand them, but we have a love for them. 

But God has taught me that there is a Love that replaces that initial infatuation, a Love that goes deeper, a Love that says, "I Love them despite knowing their culture. I Love them BECAUSE I - (in part)- understand them," a Love that is not simply emotive, but an essence of being that spurns us to an action, a Love whose only source is in God Himself.

I do not claim to have "arrived" in understanding the Gabonese culture. 
I do not claim that I am no longer frustrated by anything in the culture or that I will never again feel hostile towards the Gabonese. 
What I do claim, is a new Love for the Gabonese, because of how I know them, a Love that does not originate, or end, with me.

 Sometimes I wonder in the U.S., if we ever make it past the infatuation love in ministry. Do we push through the frustration phase in ministry, do we ever get to the other side? Or when things get tough do we simply say, "God is redirecting me in ministry," or "this ministry doesn't really fit my spiritual gifting now," when really God longs for us to push through, to give us a Love for those in our ministry which runs deeper, which Loves them because we've taken the time to know them, a Love which does not begin and end with US


On April 9th, I was walking from my house to one of the missionary's. The late afternoon was beginning to relax for the evening as if it's day's work was done. The sun was starting to set- early here on the equator as it always does- the light mist of evening was starting to settle in, and it was as if the trees with their larger-than-life, green leaves were sighing with contentment, basking in the cooler evening air.
I started stepping down the the cement stairs outside on the hill towards her house and I took a moment to soak in all that was around me, as I had done many times before. This time something was different- as I looked around a sense of peace and of being settled overwhelmed me.
In that moment I knew - for the first time in 18 months ~ I was HOME.

At Home in the Jungle, 

With all my students