Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Of Cows and Babies

Ayen came in early yesterday morning, calmly slumped in a chair, then didn’t move as she explained she was in labor. She didn’t smile either.

Watching her body movements (which were nil) and facial expressions (stoic and bored), I had a hard time believing she was in labor. But she insisted.

Digging deeper I learned that she was having a contraction an hour but when they came they hurt. Smiling to myself, I brought her in the clinic for admission.

If this mama thought labor had begun, I wasn’t going to tell her otherwise.

As I checked her in, I was surprised when I felt one of those elusive contractions roll over her body; it was intense.         -- No kidding it hurt!

I also did a vaginal exam and was equally surprised to learn she was already 6 cm dilated. All she needed was for her contractions to find a steady groove and this baby would be out! And I told her so.

She nodded in response, still refusing to smile in the least.

Looking more annoyed than anything, she decided to walk a bit and I promised to check on her regularly.

By noon, her contractions were every 15 minutes and getting longer. By one pm she was trying to push.

Even though her contractions were better... they still didn’t give me pause. Externally she was not showing me any indication it was time. Nevertheless, she wanted to push and did so with determination.

Knowing that a short push every now and again (especially for a multigravida) can help things go faster I wasn’t in a hurry to get her to stop. But it didn’t matter since her pushing got us nowhere.

Suspecting an anterior lip to be the cause of the delay, I asked her if she want me to hold it back. She just scowled at me in confusion.

This was her seventh child; she never needed anyone to hold anything up for her in the past. Why would she need it now?

I agreed with her. “I don’t need to do it,” I explained, “I just want you to know that if you let me help, the baby will come out in one or two pushes.”

She silently deepened her scowl and kept pushing in the reclining-kneeling position typically adopted by the women here. I tried to get her in forward-leaning position, but she ignored me completely.

She wasn’t being stubborn. She just couldn’t find it in her to trust me; and I can’t blame her.

I am a good decade younger than she is; I obviously don’t have seven children of my own; to her I’m just an overly opinionated punk kid with a doppler!

She looked at me like I was a mosquito buzzing around the room --annoying but ultimately insignificant and easy to ignore.

Laughing at her (inwardly only of course), I sat next to her and waited. If she was not in a hurry, I was certainly not in a hurry either. I did remind her however that I was always here to help her if she changed her mind.

An hour went by.

Then after the second hour came and went, she finally agreed to let me help. As I reached in to lift up the anterior lip I noticed she was very close indeed. All I needed to do was hold it up for her and she could deliver.

But.... she didn’t like my help, and squirmed for me to stop.

Her friend who was holding her shoulders and digging her knees into Ayen’s back to help her push, asked with unbridled disdain, “Is this how they deliver babies in this clinic?”

Ayen murmured back to her in an equally disgusted voice, “I guess so. Right now she has her hand all the way inside me...  like I’m a cow!”

When my translator told me what they were saying I stopped trying to help her and laughed and laughed.

To think! I deliver babies like cows! Ha!! Who would have thought! Ha ha ha...

Perhaps it was her perfectly knitted brow dripping in more disgust than sweat that made me laugh. Perhaps it was her annoyed tone and frustration that her baby wouldn’t come. Pain will do that to you, and she had more than her fair share.

Another hour went by.

Three hours sitting at (almost) fully is a long time to wait --especially for a G7. But really I was in no hurry.

As the third hour ticked past, I offered again. Did she want my help?

Finally, she nodded briefly and let me do a bit of the heavy lifting.

No joke, two minutes later at the end of her first real push out came a slimy, goop-covered girl with lungs!

When she cried her forehead knitted in the same disgusted expression as her mother! Priceless!

But as I expected, once Ayen’s pain was over she not only found her smile, she found her laugh. And together we celebrated the birth of her little girl!

And now as I think of her I can’t help but laugh.        --Ha ha... a cow! Ha!

Labor of Love Aug 2011 ~ Newsletter

My most recent newsletter. I hope you enjoy! 

Labor of Love Aug 2011

Monday, August 29, 2011

What Is Poverty?

I’m reading a book right now that has my keenest interest piqued. It’s called When Helping Hurts, written by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert.

Have any of you read it? If not... go out and get a copy. You won’t be disappointed.

In chapter two the author asks a very simple question. What is poverty?

A few years ago, my answer would have been very different that it is today. 

Poverty is...
... going to bed hungry and waking up to no food and no way to get any.
... having nothing to cover your body as you protect yourself from the rain.
... the shame of having to beg or watch those you love suffer.

... but it is more than that. It is not knowing God and His extraordinary love for us --a love so great He chose to die so we might live!

Okay. Now it’s your turn.

What is poverty?

Family Planning?

I was asked recently by a visiting Ugandan what kind of family planning is used around here and my mind went blank.

“Family planning?” I said dumbly back to him, “It’s called sex and .... then more sex. That’s how they plan their family here.” And then we laughed. 

No. What he really wanted to know what what kind of birth control was used. But then again I knew what he was asking... I just didn’t know the answer.

Instead I went on to explain that everyone I know wants to be pregnant; no one wants to stop it.

When a woman miscarries her whole family is distraught. When it’s chronic they think she’s been cursed.

But after explaining this... he still didn’t fully grasp it. How do I explain to this African man --a man born and raised just a few hundred miles from here-- just how different life is in Sudan.

Seriously, how?

Here, babies are not aborted even if they are conceived out of wedlock. In fact, some girls get pregnant by a family friend with the clear agreement that if she produces a healthy child he’ll marry her. It’s not only condoned by the family... it’s arranged by them.

Like I said there is much planning when it comes to families here.

Family planning.

There are no condoms and no birth control pills here. I’ve never heard of anyone wanting an IUD or tubal ligation. I have yet to hear anyone ask for an abortion.

In fact most women will do just about anything to conceive if they feel there is a problem. They will pay just about any price.

I met a young girl named Aguak today. She is one of those women. Even though she has three healthy babies at home, she has had trouble getting pregnant this year. So she went to the herbalist (aka: witchdoctor).

She paid him four goats (the equivalent of about $600.00 -- a fortune here!) and he gave her a gray clumpy concoction that she was instructed to drink. It would help her conceive he promised.

That was 4 months ago and she’s still not pregnant. 

However, this week she came to our clinic and heard the gospel for the first time and received Christ. The joy of her salvation was evidenced on her face as she sat in church.

Praying for Aguak to be free of witchcraft.
Afterward she showed us her concoction and asked us to pray. We prayed for her to be set free from any hold the witchcraft might have on her, and she happily threw it in the toilet.

Throwing out her herbs in faith.
Before she did though, we looked at it closely. Small maggots the size of pin heads floated on the surface. Clumps of rancid gray blobs moved beneath the surface.

She was supposed to drink that?

Like I said, they will do just about anything to get pregnant.

Please pray that God would open her womb and allow her the joy of bringing another child into the world. May she see Him as the Author of life like never before! 

Better yet, let's pray for every woman desperately hoping to conceive right now. Let's pray for that faint fluttering of a precious child to be felt moving in their wombs!

You Are My Friend

Achan arrived shortly after lunch, sweating slightly and very pregnant. Tall with a proud gait, she walked with her shoulders thrown back to compensate for her very large belly.

When I checked her in I was confused as to whether or not she was in labor.
-- “Achan, when did your labor start?” I asked. 
-- “Last night around 7pm.”
-- “Really? But I don’t see any contractions. How many have you had this morning?”
-- “Oh... I’ve had five.”

Thinking to myself she must be joking, I repeated it back to her. But she just repeated herself. Yes, they were definitely contractions (she should know since it was her third pregnancy) but she was having only one an hour.

I hinted that she should go home and labor there since it could be many more hours but she seemed reluctant. Even though her house was near, she assured me that she needed to be close to the clinic.

When a woman says such things I take them seriously. I trust those instincts. Plus, I wanted her to be comfortable. If being at our clinic --chaotic and bustling with circumcisions and tooth extractions-- was what she needed, then being at our clinic was what she’d get.

I checked on her regularly and was happy to see her contractions find a steady groove. She repeatedly murmured that they were painful anytime I came near and I assured her that she was right. 

I think she just needed to say it out loud.

Once her contractions were moderate and about 40 seconds long she called me over asking to push. I told her that from the outside it didn’t look like it was time and asked if she could wait.

She insisted it was time so we quietly set up for the birth.

After pushing once or twice, it didn’t appear anything was happening so I asked if I could do a vaginal check. A quick exam proved my suspicions right. She was only 3-4 cms but stretchy.

I told her it wasn’t time yet and she relaxed visibly, confessing for the first time that she was exhausted. Could she sleep a bit?

Laughing I told her that she could (of course!) and that now was the perfect time to do it. Only then did it occur to me that she was asking my permission to sleep. When I granted it, she seem relieved.

Did she not know that resting in labor was good?

(Mental note: find out if TBAs allow women to sleep in labor.)

I too decided I needed some rest and went to my room to lie down. But about 30 minutes later there was a knock at my door.
-- “She wants to push again,” the health worker/translator said flatly. He didn’t seem convinced.
-- “She’s asking to push?” I asked a bit surprised.
-- “Yes. Please come back.”

Knowing she was only 4 cm 30 minutes ago and that her contractions were then only about 5-7 minutes apart, I didn’t run back to the clinic but walked casually.

But as I approached it I was startled by the noises inside. Grunts and groans and moans and squawks made my heart race. Had she given birth already?

I rushed to her side and was relieved to find she hadn’t delivered without me. Her eyes wild with pain and a shaking that comes just before the storm, she once again sighed in relief at the sight of me.

Grabbing my neck with urgent concentration, she instantly started to push. Every fiber of her body told me that much had changed in those few minutes. It was definitely time!

I comforted her with gentle strokes on her belly, reassuring her with my words.
-- “Achan, don’t worry. You’re baby is doing fine and will be here soon.”
-- “Okay. But...” Her words failed as another contraction rushed over her. “.... help me with the pain,” she finally finished saying.

Looking at me with baleful eyes and an expression that stopped me in my tracks, she spoke in Dinka and the room jittered with laughter.         --What did I miss?

Turning to my translator for an explanation, I had to wait for him to stop laughing so he could translate.

-- “She says that she heard that you can help women with the pain. If you help her... then you will be her friend forever. You and her... you will be friends.”

It wasn’t her words but the seriousness of her expression that made us all laugh. She looked as if she was promising me a life of indentured servitude rather than friendship. 

When she heard the words ‘my friend’ translated in English, she repeated them over and over. They appeared to be the only two English words she knew.         --My friend. My friend.

I laughed too at her words but saw how serious she was and stopped. Her jet black eyes searched my face and I smiled.
-- “Achan, I will help you with your pain. I want to be your friend,” I said. And I meant it too. 

When my words were translated for her, she slumped back on the bed reassured. Okay then. We had a deal. 

A few minutes later her precious girl was born -- 3.3kg of pure loveliness!

Only later did I learn her main motive in delivering at the clinic. Apparently she always has trouble delivering her placentas and this time was no exception.

It took us quite some time and several techniques before we got it out. But once we did, it was smooth sailing. Her family was delighted.

And so was I... for I had made a new friend!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Transcending Culture

Since moving to Sudan the Bible Stories I’ve come to know and love have been infused with new colors and vibrant life.

When I read that Jesus fed the 5000, I imagine the crowds clad in Jalibias, barefoot with boogery-nosed babes on their knees.

When I read that a paralyzed man is carried on his bed by friends and let down through the roof to see what Jesus will do, in my head I see tukels and crowds pressing so close movement is impossible.

And I hear people calling from the back of the crowd: “What’s happening? Tell us. We can’t see!”

And I hear their whispers of marvel and awe: “He has forgiven the man’s sins! And now he’s walking! He’s WALKING!”

Can you hear them too?

And as I read of the centurion named Cornelius who sees a vision of an angel telling him to send for Peter, I can’t help but smile. Images of tall, stately Dinka men with spears and shields flood my brain.

Living in Sudan now brings new life to this story. The reality is that God could have used the angel in the vision to lead Cornelius to salvation.         --But He didn’t do that.

He wanted both Peter and Cornelius to push past their cultures. 

After the vision Cornelius quickly obeyed and sent men to get Peter. Then he gathered his family together expectantly.                                     -- This truly was a man of faith.

Peter, a day’s walk away, was praying and God gave him a vision of his own. In that vision God teaches him not to call anything impure that God has called clean (v. 15).

Then there is a knock at the door; Cornelius’ men have arrived.

Does Peter go with them? They are foreigners after all and servants of a Roman soldier! What do Jews have to do with Gentiles anyway, right?

His cultural dilemma must have been intense.

Clearly Peter had deep prejudices and cultural baggage or he would not have delayed. But eventually he goes with the men and meets Cornelius who has been waiting 4 days.

As they talk, Peter finally understands the lesson God had in mind and says, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right” (v.34).

And Cornelius’ whole family comes to salvation!         --Whoohooo!

Why does God use flawed people like Peter? Obviously he had severe anger and impulsivity issues. Clearly he was burdened by biases.

So why did God use him? Why?

Yes, God could have sent the gospel through the angel directly and Cornelius could have been saved 4 days before, but that would have bi-passed a great opportunity for  Peter to learn this powerful lesson.

So I ask again. Why does He use flawed people like me? Or like you?

It’s simple. He wants us to transcend culture, prejudices, and personality to see God at work. He wants to use flawed vessels for His glory. He wants to teach us His heart of love for the nations.

So if like Cornelius you are in a place of searching, seek until you find! And if like Peter you are in a cultural dilemma, push past it and speak God’s truth! And if like me you are wondering why God would use you at all, rejoice! 

It’s not about us anyway!

If you are unfamiliar with these wonderful stories, read them here: Acts 10, Mark 2, Luke 9

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Eye Team

For months we have been preparing for a group of eye specialists from Kenya to come do cataract surgeries for this community.

We've registered patients for certain days trying to explain to them the importance of coming on the right time and.... the right day!

The response has been positive. Over a hundred and fifty have signed up for a chance to see again.

Please pray for us during this final week. Pray that we are able to coordinate well during this final stretch -- as the team arrives in a week!

Also pray for Emme a Ugandan pastor who has come to head up the evangelist outreach and re-train the Sudanese pastors in how to teach oral Bible techniques with Simply the Story.

It's going to be a very busy few weeks but prayerfully it will be a time where eyes are opened to the gospel like never before! And the blind will once again dance for joy as the light of His glory shines upon them!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Retained Placenta

Anger (pronounced Ang-eer) was here a few months back. I remember her well because she delivered prematurely at 5 months.                      --That’s not something one forgets quickly.

At the time it came as a shock to me how she could be 5 months pregnant without a fundal height of any kind. Her whole history and situation was a puzzle.         --It still is.

Afterward I treated her for STD’s and cautioned her to come regularly for prenatal check-ups if she conceived again.

Well she did conceive. And she did come.

This time we found fetal heart tones early in her second trimester and her belly was growing nicely. Both hopeful things would go better, we prayed expectantly.

But once again at 5 months gestation, she started bleeding.

When she arrived and I flipped through her book my heart stopped as flashbacks of her last stillbirth played through my brain.

Were we doomed to repeat it again?

Sure enough upon examination she was delivering prematurely. Her curled fetus came out with little difficulty, but the placenta was another matter.

Long story short, I was not able to get it out.

We tried drugs and procedures but they failed. We waited and prayed... but the little bugger wouldn’t come.

I was even ready to try and vacuum it out with our manual vacuum aspirator (MVA) but it broke in my hands.         --Sigh.

And I ended up sending her to Wau for a D&C.

Please pray with me that we’d be able to learn what is causing her repeat stillbirths. Pray that her husband and his other wife -- and Anger -- would all come for more STDs treatments.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Reaching Hearts

My desire in coming here was to tell everyone I could about Jesus. I love Jesus! I want everyone to know what He has done in my life! But I also want to try and prevent deaths when I can.   

Plus I want to see lives transformed, marriages healed, bodies restored, communities changed. I want to see miracles!

Frankly it has been heavy on my heart that we (as a clinic) were not sharing Jesus with all the patients or praying for them all when they came.         --Some were but not all.

However recently that changed.

When I returned last week from my R&R, I found a new clinic policy concerning evangelism in place and was super excited!

New rules:
Everyone gets prayed for.
There is a devotion done for the patients before the clinic opens and all are invited to talk and/or pray with a group of Dinka-speaking pastors after their consultation.
Plus, Christian music plays throughout the clinic all day long.

It’s wonderful!

And I get to share my testimony as much as I like with my patients, knowing that there is going to be a follow-up with the pastors in their own language once I’m finished.

So far all of my patients have been receptive and inquisitive. Many have never heard the name of Jesus uttered once, nor can they tell me who He is?

They explain that no one has ever come to their village to help them know Him. One woman asked me if I would come to her village and teach her!        -- Oh... so so tempting!

Lots have told me they would love to go to church but there is nowhere within walking distance that they can go.

However there are many others that know Him already and attend church somewhere; and they are always happy to pray.

Please pray for much fruit... and that it would remain. And remember to pray against the blatant and intense spiritual warfare that has hit us in light of these changes.

By the way, I’m told that since they started doing these small things more than 500 people have prayed to know Jesus!

Think of that!

The Ambulence is coming!

I'm so excited to report that our fabulously wonderful ambulance is in route to South Sudan today. Our ministry director Sabet is driving it through Uganda then up through Sudan.

If you'd like to follow along on his adventures visit the IDAT blog. It's exciting to read of his journey and even more exciting to know that after months of waiting and praying, we'll have it here soon.

Please pray for their safety as they make their way through difficult roads and various obstacles. Thanks.

Prenatal Prayer Projects~

Prenatal woman being checked in by our Sudanese staff.
Some days I open a woman’s prenatal book and I’m surprised by my own handwriting. Did I really write that down... and not cry?

One of my patient’s obstetrical history looks like this:

G8 P5 L4 A2 M1
1st baby: SAB (Spontaneous Abortion) at 2 months -- Clots.
2nd baby: Delivered --Alive.
3rd baby: SAB at 1.5 months.
4th baby: Delivered --Alive.
5th baby: Twins --Both alive.
6th baby: Delivered alive but died at 1 yr. old.
7th baby: Delivered preterm at 6 months but died at 1 yr. old.
8th .... she’s now 5 months pregnant.

She’s only in her early 30’s and yet she has already knows the heartache of two miscarriages and two tiny coffins. But would you believe it... her history is a happy one compared to the rest.

Three times this week I’ve had women sit on my prenatal bed and flatly detail their obstetrical history. And three times this week I have wanted to cry.

I am sharing their information with you with permission. They said it’s okay for me to tell you so you can pray.

So please pray....

Athnony -- age 30-ish (G6 P3 L0 A2)
She had two miscarriages and three live-births but all three babies died shortly after delivery or before they were weaned. She’s 6 months pregnant now. Pray that this baby lives and grows to be a gray-beard who loves Jesus!

Achuei -- in her mid 20’s (G4 P3 L1 A0)
She’s given birth three times but one died after two days when it didn’t breastfeed and the other died when crawling. She has only one baby at home that’s alive. She’s in her second trimester but I’m not sure of her gestational age. May this tot be a delightful pest to his mother and a prize to his father. May he grow up to have a large family of his own who all know and love Jesus!

Monica -- in her late 30’s (G5 P4 L1 A0)
Her first baby died at 3 1/2 months old, her second child died at 5 years old and her third child was born term but died after 7 days of labor during which she claims she was treated for meningitis by the local witch-doctor.

Well.. this WAS her obstetrical history until two weeks ago when her only remaining child started having breathing difficulties. She brought him to our clinic for treatment but he eventually succumbed to his infection and died. He was only 4 yrs. old.

When I saw her this morning and learned of her loss it took everything in me not to weep outright. But such displays of emotion are not permitted here... and I blinked back my tears.

Lord... she has suffered the loss of ALL her children. Only You can know her pain! Only You can comfort her in this dark time! Lord, please touch her and give her peace. Help her to grieve and yet still hope...

She is 7 months pregnant now.

Pray this baby lives. Thrives. Survives. And loves his mother with joy, bringing her laughter in her old age!


Hit and Run

The patient being carried by his family.
The other night just as I was cleaning up after a birth, two honking cars showed up at the gate.

After they rushed in clamoring and banging walls, they unloaded their cargo on our bed. A hit and run victim roughly 40 years old and very drunk lay curled up on his side.

Unconscious and bleeding, he didn’t make a sound as his friend moved his fractured leg around like a puppet on a string.

It flopped awkwardly to one side --the two pieces were severed beneath the skin. But most of the bleeding was coming from his head via a star-shaped gash.

Not skilled in emergency medicine, I started an IV and waited for Dr. Tom to arrive.

Tom worked hard to get the leg braced and the patient eventually woke up. I got to suture his head (which was totally cool and nothing like perineal tissue!) and we kept him over night.

It took his family a day or so to rally up enough money to get him to Wau for surgery, but they eventually did so; and he left on a bus this afternoon.

Please pray for him to get the pins in place and heal properly so he can walk again. I’d hate to see them amputate....

Where do I start?

Where do I start?

Do I start with the fact I’ve delivered 10 babies this week... or the fact there are two more in labor right now?

Do I start with the 14 hr days at the end of which I’m too tired to brush my teeth before nodding off to sleep?

How about describing the wonderful changes going on in the clinic in terms of evangelism or the exponential growth happening at church?

Seriously where do I start?

I wish I had the time and strength to describe all these wonderful births --I would love to write out their beautiful stories-- but it’s just too busy right now; there are literally not enough hours in the day.

Perhaps when things slow down I’ll get to it.

In the meantime, please be praying for us all. So much is happening... so much.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


I follow a few blogs now that I write so much on my own.

Some of them open my eyes to things I would have never considered or understood elsewhere.
        --I love them for that.

Some of them challenge me to believe more, trust more, love more, and let loose the restraints of culture and religiosity.
        --I thank God for that.

And well some just flat out break my heart and force me to my knees in prayer.
        --But that's where I need to be, right?

More often than not, they minister to me in my need. This blog post is one of those that blessed me unspeakably. Even though it was written some time back, it continues to bless me and I'm sure it will bless you as well.

May we all be able to say in the end, "I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith." (2 Timothy 4:7) 

Keep running!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Easy as 1 - 2 - 3!

 My alarm sounded, pulling me from a fuzzy dream of distant lands. It was time to greet the day, but I wasn’t ready. Turning in my bed, I hit the snooze once, then twice trying to return to my dream.


Someone was at my door. Startled but awake, I rushed to answer it.

I was greeted by an even sleepier Margaret ready to brief me on a labor that had just arrived. My labor-watch shift was starting.        

Apparently a not-too-active G2 had just arrived; I had time for coffee.

I dressed in the dark, blindly finding scrubs that matched then heated water for coffee. I figured even if she wasn’t active now, G2’s (Aka: Gravida 2 or woman expecting her second child) are unpredictable. I needed to be ready.

The blue light of dawn was just starting to roll across the sky, but the clinic was already buzzing.       

“It’s gonna be a busy one,” I thought to myself as I pushed pass the patients sleeping on the clinic front porch. They too were rubbing sleep from their eyes.

Settling into the birth room, I got things arranged and started sipping my coffee. I was just about to go look for my patient when I heard urgent voices and a rustling at my door.

Turning I found a young girl in orange being hurried along by three others. They dropped her at my feet, then started talking over each other.

Moaning and pushing with determination and grit, I recognized her as the G1 (aka: first time mom) that had come each morning for the last two days convinced it was time.     -- It wasn’t.

However now it really was! Not only was she in labor but she was close.                   --So close.

Long story short she delivered a few minutes later. A boy!

I had them cleaned up and resting by the time most of my prenatal ladies had arrived. But it had been well over an hour and I had yet to meet my G2. She was off somewhere in the wings.

I tracked her down near the mango tree.

Her contractions looked effective and thoroughly painful, but she was progressing slowly. So I got her settled and prayed for her, promising to check on her regularly throughout the morning.

Fortunately, there were only 13 prenatals to do (instead of the regular 30 +).

By 11:30 am I’d already seen the majority of them, but one late-comer was now saying she too was in labor. As I was assessing her outside, my G2 called frantically for help.

Running, I found her vomiting bile (a good sign of progress) and ready to push. She made big eyes at me indicating it was time. Whoohoo!

A few minutes and several high-pitched sound effects later, out popped baby boy number two!

His mouth opened wide for a breath... then never closed! Wailing and pouting in protest as I dried him off. I couldn’t help but laugh. His lips were huge and gloriously kissable.

I nick-named him Lips on the spot. (His is the mugshot at the top of this post!)

His birth was beautiful and celebrated by all her friends. Together we laughed at his comical mouth and I clicked off a few pictures of his kissable lips!

It was certainly a wonderful day!    

Once the dust settled, I learned that the woman outside WAS in fact in labor and she was ‘mine if I wanted her’.

Smiling at the thought of another baby I told Margaret I’d take her off her hands; then I had lunch. 

Once back at the clinic, I learned that my new labor was a G3 (aka: expecting her third baby) with a sad obstetrical history. Flipping through her chart I saw my hand writing and I instantly remembered her.

Her first baby died during a traumatic three-day birth. She insisted she PUSHED for 3 days! Her second birth was also difficult and left the child paralyzed on his left side. I’m not sure if his paralysis is from birth trauma or not but I suspected so. 

“What if her pelvis is deformed?” I wondered.

I decided to evaluate her myself and called her in.

Sweating and grunting, she moved slowly but silently toward the prenatal bed. Instantly I knew we were in the final stretch and hurried to ready the room.

Within minutes she was desperately trying NOT to push but was obviously READY.

She opted for the kneeling position... and yep, you guessed it. A few minutes later out rolled a precious little boy!

He was a tight squeeze --his shoulders and hips snagged on the way out-- but in the end all went according to plan.                                --Thank You Jesus!

Three beautiful boys in 8 hours!

Once again I’m awed by the strength of these women! They make giving birth look as easy as 1 - 2 - 3!

Culture side note:
When one of the husband’s arrived to meet his son, he asked me if his wife “confessed”. Smirking to myself knowingly, I lied and told him that I asked his wife during the pushing stage if she had slept around.

--“She didn’t confess so the baby must be yours,” I lied. “Plus just look at that head of his,” I said pointing at the funnel-shaped alien's neonate’s head, “It looks just like yours!”

Reassured, he smiled but refused to believe that his boy’s misshaped noggin looked anything like his. Nevertheless we laughed.

Yes. Perhaps one day if the fancy suits me I’ll start drilling my labors with questions of faithfulness while pushing. Then and only then, will I be a real Sudanese midwife!


Later on my translator told me that TBAs (Traditional Birth Attendants) in the villages have a ‘code of silence’ when it comes to this childbirth confessional thing.

And apparently some husbands are on to them.

If the husband suspects the TBA is hiding anything from him, he can take her to court and make her swear by oath his wife's faithfulness!

Yep. I can see it now.

“I, Stephanie Williams, so solemnly swear that Mr. Dinka Dude’s wife did not have an affair. She gave birth to his child because during the pushing stages of birth, she did not confess to being unfaithful.”

Where do I sign up?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Flying Home

The journey from Kenya to Sudan once felt unbearably long. My body was not used to the cramped seats of the insect-sized puddle-hoppers lovingly referred to as planes. Now it is.

This flight in --albeit cramped-- went quickly and dare I say... routine?

How does a shuttle to the Northern-most stretch of barren scruff of Kenya become mundane? How can riding a bouncy 4-seater beneath the cumulus cotton-candy clouds ever be run-of-the mill?                              -- Seriously, how?

Nevertheless, this flight stirred nothing in me. No longing. No drive. Nothing but the easy breath of home.

Because of its size, the charter we flew had to stop in Akot --a small village an hour’s flight from Tonj-- for fuel.

Halfway through hand pumping the fuel in to the insect-sized plane, the kids arrived. Dressed in their Monday’s best with blue shorts and a buttoned top,  it was clear they were fresh out of school.

They gathered under the low-hanging wing and volleyed phrases back and forth. Oh how I wish I understood!

I was considerably less interesting than the other backseat passenger, my director’s daughter. The boys kept talking to her, but she refused to engage and they pretended not to care.

Yet when she folded herself into her seat in preparation for departure, they had to get a better look, and a half dozen heads peeked in.

Why did she get to ride the metal bird?

A few minutes later, we were once again air-borne and homeward bound.

Landing in Tonj, I was greeted by dozens more looky-loos --many of which were pregnant-- who welcomed me warmly.

To my surprise, there was also a water truck that had rolled just a few minutes before, tottering on its side in the middle of the main road.

The driver had been speeding and (perhaps) inebriated. He and his passenger were taken to our clinic for evaluation, then arrested later that night by police.

Oh Sudan! It’s nice to be home.

My Ate (Pronounced: Ah-Tay)

Five AM came a bit earlier than expected. The rust in my joints creaked as I eased out of bed, tied up my hair, and sullenly glared at the puffy-eyed woman in the mirror.

I hate early morning flights.

An hour and three cups of coffee later, we were skirting through Nairobi’s center heading for the airport. My R&R was over; it was time to go home.

Suitcases in hand, I pushed through the small screening room, only to wait some more with a dozen other early travelers outside the small terminal.

The whine of the small jet engines fill my ears as the metallic stench of fuel floated past. Piles of luggage to my right and a steady stream of would-be travelers to my left, I hedged toward a wall to wait out from under foot.

Then I heard my name and someone grabbed my arm.

Turning to look on a face wildly out of place, I squeal like a teeny-bopper from Beverly Hills and begin to bounce.

Yes. I was instantly morphed into the spastic teenager I made fun of in school. But I couldn’t help it; I was overcome with joy and surprise.

It was Elai!

Elai had been one of my midwifery teachers at Newlife School of Midwifery in the Philippines. She embodied so much of what I aspired to be.         --Patient. Loving. Skilled. Godly. Kind. Gentle. Wise.

I had heard she was now working in Northern Sudan; so seeing her in Kenya didn’t quite fit.

What in the world?

We laughed and hugged each other at the unexpected joy of bumping into a friend so far from ‘home’, and she explained that the organization she works for had temporarily placed her in the South. 

Our time was short but sweet as we swapped stories of our respective work then I was pulled away. My flight was ready.

I hugged her and walked away thinking “When will I hug her next, Lord?”

I love these ‘God appointments’; they are like little kisses from heaven.

And all I can say is Southern Sudan is blessed to have her.

I love you dear Elai! I hope you love Southern Sudan as much as I do!

By the way in the Philippines, ATE (Ah-Tay) means older sister. Even though she is barely a few months older than I am, she is still my Ate and always will be.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

My Cup of Tea

 Normally I prefer my coffee black as tar and so thick you need to chew; but every now and again I take tea.

I find that tea drinkers are a particular breed and for them the right cup of tea can put a smile on their face faster than anything else.

Sugar? Cream? A twist of lemon?         -- Yes, please.

In Kenya, the most popular kind of tea (locally called chai) comes piping hot, creamy, and heaping in sugar.         --Delicious.

The other morning --having a bit of time to spare-- I decided to take tea on the street corner.

As I walked up to the make-shift cafe, no one acknowledged me for several minutes; there were omelettes to be cooked and several other customers to serve. The woman in charge --round faced with sleepy eyes-- greeted me with a smile and I sat down.       

-- Chai, please.

Although not her typical customer (I’m guessing), she poured the caramel colored brew in a battered tin cup asking if I needed extra sugar.

I wasn’t sure if it was sweet enough so I took a sip. Instantly, my fingers burned from the metal handle but I persisted.

Its mellow, velvety warmth coated my tongue and singed my lips.                     --Delightful!

Then for the next few minutes I smiled, took pictures, and cheerfully acknowledged the others also sitting at her cafe.

Only when the strangeness of my presence wore off, did the others settle into their daily routine and I could watch the morning’s happenings.

A couple facing me were deep in conversation but couldn’t help furtively glancing my direction every few minutes.

The grey beard in brown sitting to my right cheerfully chatted up the owner while devouring a thin, greasy omelette. His age gave him carte blanche to stare; and he did so with pleasure.

Easy conversation flowed as the two women who ran the cafe moved about. One peeled and diced potatoes while the other refilled thermoses and fried a pile of thin, greasy omelettes.

The energy and simplicity of it all reminded me of home.

By the time my chai was more than half finished, my taste buds were badly scorched but by spirits were high.

This is definitely my cup of tea!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Monday Monkey Mayhem

After tracking down my package at the post office (see earlier post for details) the day was still young, so my guide and I took lunch.

Fried chicken and chips were just the ticket to boost our wearied souls.

We decided to not waste time in the city since we couldn’t be sure how long it’d take us to get home.

However while meandering through the congested streets, dodging cars, and pushing past the street peddlers and business execs, I found a hole in the wall shop which had some fabulous material.

The shop keeper gave me a price that was more than fair, but in an effort not to offend her I bargained anyway; it’s the Kenyan way.

Here no price is set in stone.

Now, I confess I’m a train wreck when it comes to bargaining. I often miscalculate and underbid which invariably leads to me offending them, or else I get all flustered and pay twice the going rate.

It’s really hit or miss.

But this time I decided to try a new technique --make her laugh. When I succeeded, the bargaining stopped and we shook hands happily over the purchase.     -- I think I even impressed my guide.

From there we snaked our way through a labyrinth of high-rises and newspaper stands. Then it hit me; something was missing.

Scanning the streets, the faces shuffled past in a slow and steady rate. What was different? What was missing? I had to stop to think. Then it hit me!

--“Where are the homeless and beggars?” I asked my guide. “Does Africa have them?”

I knew it was a naive question only an idealistic Mozungu would ask, but I asked it anyway.

My guide considered my question and looked around with me, trying to see it from my Western eyes.

--“Yes. There are beggars here but the government shoos them away,” she explained. “But you know... only those who are not smart in the head or are lame beg.”

I had to smile. She was right. Later I came across cripples begging, but it was the exception not the rule.

She then took me to a bead wholesale store. As I stood gawking in that cramped box with beads stacked to the ceiling, my mind whirled and whizzed at the possibilities.

I’d have to come back for sure.... and with lots more cash that I had on hand.

In the end, I bought several Dinka beads to make gifts and thank-yous, and promised to be back.

From there we boarded another bus to journey home. But halfway there, my guide turned to me and asked if I wanted to see monkeys.

When I asked her to explain she mentioned a free park along our route home. Was I interested?

Heck Yeah, I was interested!             -- I love monkeys. I would love to own a monkey! Monkey! Monkey! MONKEYS!

The park was lush and overgrown. Creeping vines wrapped around towering acacia and gum trees shaded us from the heat and noise.

Deep well-used trails twisted back through small ravines alongside a grey stream. And then the monkeys came.

First it was just one adventurous female. She approached slowly but without fear --watching us for treats.

When we offered her a chunk of our sugar cane, she took it swiftly; then others followed. Overall I must have seen 50 of them scattered around the park --in trees, on benches, playing in the fields.

Clicking off pictures, I soaked in this momentary silence of monkey haven, then we hiked back to the road and journeyed home.

What a day!

Post-Office Odyssey

My directors have been telling me to not have anyone send packages for over a year now.

-- “It’s not worth the fuss and expense,” they’d complain. “It is just better to have people bring it in by hand.”

When I asked them why it was so hard, they’d describe crazy traffic getting downtown to the main post office, long lines ending in inept staff who invariably charged custom fees that should not apply.        

Knowing this, I discouraged all packages (and still do).

But the day came when it couldn’t be avoided; I needed some books that hadn’t arrived in time for one of my summer classes.

More out of desperation than defiance, I had them sent to Africa directly.

The books were ordered in June then sent to Kenya in mid July. My package slip arrived sometime later, after taking a number of people and a taxi ride to track it down.

That was a week or so back.

Since my return from the coast, I realized I needed to get these books quickly or I’d have to pay storage fees. So I arranged for a young girl from church to guide me.

Pink claim slip in hand, I walked the 30 minutes to the matatu (bus-like transport) stop to meet my friend.

Non-stop honking and smoky exhausts coated us as we waited. We were just two more faces in the sea of would-be riders.

To my right, a woman in a sharp pencil-line skirt suit and black stilettos stood beside a grungy day-laborer with motor oiled stained nailbeds; he was carrying what looked to be the engine block of a foreign car.

Matatu after matatu honked their way past, holding up tiny signs of the number of their routes and calling for passengers.

-- “Forty to BS! Room for one. Forty to the Bus Station. Room for one.”

When no one stepped forward from the dusty line, the man would slap the side of the van, signaling to drive on.

-- “Only 10 bob to get to the main stop. Ten to the Station,” another yelled. It was endless.

Dust and fumes smothered me till I wheezed and choked, counting the minutes tick by in frustration. We waited close to 40 minutes but our matatu never arrived.

My guide and translator seemed surprised.
-- “Normally it’s easier to find a matatu at this time,” she apologized. 

She decided to take the only route open and have us walk once we got there. I didn’t mind walking. I just wanted off that street.

The ride into town wasn’t long. The 30 minutes passed quickly as I watched street venders pedal peanuts and fresh sugar cane to the weary passengers. In order to sell their wares, they would run up to the buses and hand them through the windows.

Once we reached downtown, my guide told me to get off in haste. I pushed my way out with little regard for life or limb, then turned expecting to see her right behind.

But no, she’d gotten trapped on the matatu as it sped away!

Panic filled my veins as I looked around in confusion. Not only did I have no idea where I was, I had no idea where I was going!

Fortunately, it didn’t take her long to find a bewildered white woman clinging desperately to her phone; and we laughed.

Walking in circles, eventually we found the post office; but only after asking three separate police officers. The third one told us it was just around the corner. As we turned the corner however, the doors were locked and barred!


I laughed to think that the main post office would be closed on a Monday morning. Could this be right? Was it some kind of public holiday?

Fortunately, we continued on around the building and found other doors wide open. Relieved to know my coating of dirt and grime had not been in vain, I stepped forward pink slip in hand.

-- “Can you please tell me where I pick up my package?”
-- “Go right,” she said with a quick gesture of her hand. “It’s in the basement.”

So I went right in search of the basement only to be confronted with more lines, and stairs going to the second floor. So I asked again.

This time, I was informed that in going right I had to exit the building, go through a gate and then navigate my way down stairs.         -- Sigh.

Long story short, it took five people all pointing right before we found the stairs and the man who knew what to do with the now crumpled slip in my hand.

When he handed me my package, I suppressed an urge to cry out in triumph.

No. This was not quite Homer’s Odyssey... but it was awfully darn close.

... to be continued.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Sand in My Toes

This week has been a lovely treat.

I spent it under a tall palm tree on the small white beach, watching the masses of holiday-ers come and go.

With summer upon us, most of the resort guests were from Kenya or England.

Day after day, I played and read and ate.        -- Divine.

Plus, my tan is great. I’m actually starting to feel (and look) Mexican again!

Some of the highlights of the trip were eating Italian gelato with my English friends, watching a sunset on a Dhow with my Kenyan friends, and then sailing through the seas on a catamaran trying to catch marlin with my South African and English friends.

The Dhow boat that took us to sunset watching.
Sunset view
The catamaran named 'Contagious'
The western beach on the way for ice cream.
For those of you who prayed for me not to be lonesome, thank you! I was rarely alone... unless I wanted to be.

Now I’m back in Nairobi catching up on last minute details. I head back to Sudan in one week. Pray that I’m able to get my multiple entry visa in time. Thanks.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

To Work... To Believe

When Jesus came on the scene preaching against legalism and proclaiming to be God, He made quite a stink among the religious of His time.

Jesus didn’t mince words; He spoke with authority; and He backed up all He said with miracles which testified to the truth of His words.

This naturally drew more and more spectators daily. Masses of people walked far and wide to catch a glimpse of this Man and hear His words. They saw Him do mighty works and knew -- This had to be the Messiah!

And when Jesus fed the multitude with five loaves and two small fish (John 6:5-14), the people got excited and tried to force Him to be King (v. 14). But instead He fled the multitude (v. 19).

The next morning the multitude tracked Jesus down. But their motives in seeking Him were not pure, and He called them on it.

He told them that they were searching for Him not because of the signs He did (i.e. the sign of manna from heaven) but because they were hungry again (v. 26).

Were they looking for the Messiah? Or did they want another free lunch?

As they stood there looking confused, Jesus told them:
“Do not labor for the food which perishes but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him” (v. 27).

Interestingly enough, the multitude still didn’t get it. Instead they asked Him about works. They asked, “...What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” (v. 28)


Did they completely misunderstand? Jesus is telling them that He is the Bread of Life and that they should desire Him --their Messiah and King-- more than food, and instead they ask for some kind of ‘work’ they can do to be saved.

Naturally, Jesus saw through their works-based confusion, telling them: “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.” (v. 29)
Now think about this carefully.

Is salvation found in doing?        

The religious leaders of that time sure thought so; they heaped rules upon rituals in every effort to be righteous.

But unlike the religious leaders, Jesus told the multitude not to work but believe.

It is not by doing that we are saved; it is not by works (Eph 2:8-9); and it is certainly not by racking up a bunch of brownie points!


Perhaps you are reluctant to let go of ‘works’ or perhaps you like ‘doing’. If so, fine.

Go ahead and do great things for the Lord! Joyfully work out your salvation with fear and trembling! (Phil 2:12) But be careful not to confuse service with salvation.

Salvation is by faith.

What is the work of God?         -- To believe in Him who He sent!

Do you believe?

Monday, August 1, 2011

Sea Side

Getting here wasn’t easy, nor was it cheap. But I’m glad I came all the same.

My taxi and flight went without a hitch. It’s strange being greeted with “Jambo!” or “Karibu!” instead of the Dinka equivalents. I even started speaking to my driver in Dinka, then burst out laughing when he looked at me in confusion!

What country am I in?

It’s clear to me I’m not in Sudan. But it’s not always clear that I’m in Kenya. Is this really Africa?

If my newest lodging is any indication, I’d venture to say it isn’t.

What I mean is... I’ve finally succumbed to pressure, fatigue, and temptation and come to the Kenyan coast.

The resort sent a driver to pick me up at the airport. And after stepping off the small plane, I was greeted by a gregarious chap named Peter who loves Jesus and claims to live by the two commandments. (No, not the 10 commandments; that’s too many to remember!) He lives by the two summed up by Jesus.

Love God. Love others.         -- How can you argue with that?

We laughed most of the 20 minute drive down the coast as the wind coated me in a fine layer of salt. Palm trees. Coral rocks. Fields of blighted maize.

Blighted maize?

Yes, the drought that has hit East Africa has caused the fields to fail even on this windswept shore.

Peter deposited me at the door of the fancy resort and I was immediately faced with exotic tokens like key cards, towel boys and beach umbrellas.

Is this really Africa?         -- It’s hard to say.    

Don’t get me wrong. I need this break, and I’m going to enjoy it to the fullest. But part of me wishes I weren’t alone.

Anyone want to join me for a little siesta on the beach in Malindi? I would LOVE  the company!

Thanks for praying for me to get some rest. I expect I’ll get more than my fair share here. Is it wrong for me to wish for sun when the drought is so severe?