Sunday, September 30, 2012

Cracking Open Doors.

The church on the Maforga compound.
As the count down to my time in Mozambique was coming to an end, I couldn’t tell if God was closing the door there, or if it just looked closed because too much junk was in front of it.

I’d spent a full month praying and knocking on the Ministry of Health’s door. Every week and sometimes twice or three times a week, Roy or some other emissary would stop in to set up an interview with the director. But each time we got the run around.

I laid the interview with the MOH out as a sort of fleece, asking God to guide me in relation to my future here in terms of the kind of favor they granted me. If they wouldn’t even meet with me, obviously I was supposed to go elsewhere.

I knew the battle was being fought in the heavenlies, and that I was supposed to walk by faith and not by sight (2 Cor 5:7). However, there is just so much nonsense I’m willing to put up with.

If they were unwilling to play ball, I was not going to beg them.

Naturally, I talked to Roy about this quite often. And as the days passed, he was in much prayer with me concerning this apparent ‘closed door’. So as the month came to the inevitable end, we all redoubled our prayers.

For me, the break happened on the Sunday before I left.

Roy asked me to come and speak before the church and tell them what God had been showing me during my stay. I told him that I’d be happy to share, but that I still did not have anything definite.


Well, for three reasons really. One: the Ministry of Health (MOH) wasn’t granting me an interview; two: the midwifery school in Chimoio wouldn’t let me know if we were to work together or not (sorry, that’s a story I never told you); and three: I’d been hearing rumors of mass corruption within the system.

One nurse I had met applied to get her nursing license approved so she could work in Mozambique THREE years ago. She is still waiting.

What? Come on! Three years of waiting... and the government has still not granted her permission to work. What a waste!

Frankly, when I hear things like this I cannot help but worry that anything I try to do will be met with the same stubborn willfulness --the same myopic xenophobia. What then?

I voiced these clear and present concerns with Roy to see if they were valid. They were. So we prayed... and then prayed some more.

Meanwhile, the spiritual attacks each night were intensifying.

Lord, is Mozambique what You’d have for me next? If so... won’t you at least grant me a meeting with the Ministry of Health?

Like I said. The answer came... or at least something spiritually broke open that Sunday when I went forward to speak.

There I stood humming and hawing about what God had shown me as I addressed the church. I had to admit to all these tiny, expectant faces that God had not said a word. It wasn’t a ‘No’, but it sure wasn’t a ‘Yes’ either.

As I finished, Roy called all the kids up to pray for me (Note: the church is made of missionaries and orphans. There are roughly 100 orphans and a dozen missionaries.). He told them that he and Trish really wanted me to come back, and that we needed God to speak.

Within seconds a mob of kids surrounded me; some grabbed my shins, others took hold of any part of me they could reach. My hair. My arms. My clothes.

Layers of orphans encircled me, then we all bent our heads in prayer.

Having fifty-plus orphans pray over you in tongues is not an experience you soon forget. And I knew that God had heard and was ready to move. I just didn’t know how He’d do it.

Me, Trish & Roy at church.
The next morning God spoke to Roy, Trish, and I all individually during our personal devotions, promising us amazing things and exhorting us not to lose heart. With these promises on our lips, Trish and I rode off to Chimoio for one final attempt with the Ministry of Health.

If the door was still barred, then we’d take that as a sign that God had other plans in store. But if the door opened, we’d walk through it.

I was not nervous at all when we check in with the guard at the government building. He didn’t ask for my ID, but he did strain his neck to look at me closer then waved me through.

Walking through the tiled beehive of a building was strange though. Men and women hurried about in suits, barely taking the time to notice each other as they passed. But they all stopped to gawk at the tall foreigners.

We stuck out like sore thumbs.

After climbing four stories to the right floor, we checked in with the receptionist and asked to speak to the director of health. She came around her desk to greet us and within second ushered us in to the main office, by-passing three people who were there long before us.

As we stood in the doorway waiting, a slight man in an oversized suit was asked to wait outside and we were given his seats.

Trish and I smiled conspiratorially to one another as we sat down. We were in!

Nevertheless, the battle had just begun. Now we had to convince them our ideas were feasible and in the best interest of the nation.
    --Lord... work Your perfect will! Amen.

Trish spoke to the woman before us, but it soon became clear she was not the one in charge. Excusing herself, she returned with a man named Manual and left us to talk.

Manual found out that I was hoping to re-open the hospital and get my license to work in Mozambique, and he was immediately negative.

-- “To do this thing...” he started to explain in Portuguese, “is not possible. Not possible. Not good.” He puckered his lips for emphasis, then shook his head. He even turned to me and added in heavily accented English, “Not possible. Big problem.” Just in case I was not clear on his meaning.

Undeterred, Trish continued to explain the desire we had is not for me to do the work at the hospital but to hire a Mozambican nurse to take care of the babies. My focus would be in only training mozambican midwives, but that I needed to have permission to work for this to be possible.

This piqued his interest and he started asking more questions.

Far from convinced, he tried to give us a paper outlining how to apply for a work permit and then send us on our way. But neither or us moved. So he got up and went to another office across the hall, presumably to talk to a superior.

Ten minutes later he returned and sat down. He proceeded to outline the obstacles and Trish continued to just sit and talk to him. She didn’t move... so I didn’t more either.

But as she talked, his interest increased and she recounted the history of the hospital and all the good it had done over the years. It’s at this point he asked to see my diploma.

I had brought a copy just in case, and I handed it to him with a smile. He looked at it, then at me, then back at it.

It was in English. Naturally.

Adjusting the distance of the paper back and forth in front of his eyes while he read told me he was in desperate need of glasses.

He admired the golden seal at the bottom but struggled with the fancy calligraphy. Eventually, he pointed to the expiration date at the bottom and said, “This is no good. No good. No diploma has an expiration date.”

I laughed and then agreed, explaining that what I had brought him was in fact my NARM license. This gave me permission to practice in the States. It was better than a diploma, I tried to explain. But he was not buying it.

Diplomas don’t expire.

This led us into another long explanation. But since we were not in the least rattled, he realized that perhaps it wasn’t a problem after all.

By this time, an hour had easily passed.

Trish was still talking; I was still listening in, but I could only understand about 40% of what was being said. So I just sat there and prayed under my breath.

Every time Manual suggested another obstacle, Trish explained how we hoped to get around it. She was unflappable --the very essence of patience.

As I watched her dance around his questions and work through his imagined road-blocks, my admiration for her grew.

Trish, despite her tall frame and bleach blond hair, is every bit as African as Manual. She was born in Zimbabwe and educated in South Africa. She might not have the pigmentation in her skin, but cut it and she would bleed Africa --pure and simple.

I confess, I stopped listening after awhile. My brain drifted and I just enjoyed the moment.

Finally, Manual had become excited at the prospect of me coming. He walked us through the steps it would take to get my work permit, enumerating the papers I’d need.

-- “First you need your real diploma,” he teased. “Then you need a copy of your CV and letters of recommendations. Lastly, you need the police clearance from your country and any country you’ve worked in.”
-- “What? I need a police clearance for the other countries I worked in?” I asked. I knew I needed it from the States, but not for the other countries.
-- “Yes. The police clearance tells us if you have been arrested or done anything illegal in those countries,” he explained. “Maybe you are coming here to work because you were kicked out of your country for illegal practices.”

I had to acknowledge the reasonableness of this request... but I confess my faith wavered. How would I get a police clearance for the Philippines, Haiti, and South Sudan?

Oi Vey!

-- “Once you get these papers, then you can officially apply. From that date, you should have it in two months. Then you can come to Mozambique and open the hospital.”
-- “Two months?” I asked incredulously. “But I met a woman last week, she has been waiting three years and still has not had it approved.”
-- “Really?” he asked a bit suspiciously.
-- “How can we know that it won’t be the same for me?” we asked.

He just laughed and said, “All I know is it should take two months from when we mail it from here. What happens in Maputo... I cannot say.”

We had to laugh with him. This was African bureaucracy at its best.


But by this time... which I’d have to guess was at least an hour and a half after we started, perhaps more... Manual had decided he liked us. He smiled when he spoke, and he eagerly exchanged cell phone numbers with us.

The change in his countenance in this short time was remarkable. It was clearly something only God could do. He went from saying “Big problem” to “So you go back to America now, then in two months you come back.... that means you come back in November!”

We had to laugh at how unrealistic that was, then confessed, “Well, I cannot come in November. I promised my mother I’d spend time with her for Thanksgiving.” I was not even sure he knew what Thanksgiving was.
-- “Okay... so you come back in Christmas time... December?” he asked expectantly, grabbing my arm for emphasis.
-- “No. Christmas is too soon. Maybe January. Is January okay?” I queried.
-- “Yes. January. Very good. You come back in January,” he blurted happily as he shook our hands.

Both Trish and I left on cloud nine. The door hadn’t exactly flown wide opened... but it certainly had cracked open a bit.

Praise God!

Now please pray that I’m able to get these police clearances from the various countries I’ve worked in. -- Oi Vey! Also pray that if and when I apply for the proper visa, I’m granted it in two months --not in three years.

God can do this. He can do this and much much more. Please pray in faith that He will. Thanks.

Witchcraft and Warfare~

This past week, more than once I tried to describe the supernatural and spiritual attacks I felt during my month in Mozambique... but each time I did so, the looks I got were odd.

Very odd.

I’ve since come to the conclusion that most people are quick to admit --at least in Christian circles-- that we are at war spiritually. I mean... come on! If we are not at war, why then would Paul exhorts us to strap on the full armor of God? Why else would he explain that we war not against flesh and blood but against the principalities and powers in the heavenly realm (Ephesians 6:12-18)?

But when it comes to the manifestations of these dark forces, these same people grow uncomfortably silent.

When I told them I experienced manifestations while in Mozambique, they tended to wiggle in their chairs and fiddle with their watches. When I explained that I was woken each night at 2-2:30 a.m. by evil spirits, they often got so uncomfortable they changed the subject.

I used to be that way. I used to think that people who talked of demons were off their rockers.

I mean, come on! Let’s be serious! Demonic possession was true in Jesus’ day, but such things don’t happen today.

Today... we are more sophisticated.


I used to think that when some darkness approached or a depression occurred all the Christian had to say was ‘Greater is He who is in me than he who is in the world’ (1 John 4:4) and the issue would be over.

I used to think that I was immune from any physical attack as a Christian. I mean, Satan might send his cronies to harass me, but it would be like shooing away gnats.

I confess... I used to think a lot of things.

But after a month in Mozambique --and especially after the massive spiritual attack I received once I started planning the work there-- my mind has been opened. I don’t think that way anymore.

I share this not to spook you, nor do I want to be ‘one of those’ Christians... but I need you to know. I need you to pray. I need you to intercede.

Mozambique has a spiritual heritage of witchcraft unlike any country I’ve ever known before. Its darkness reminds me a lot of Haiti, but it feels stronger somehow. More active.

To be honest, I’m not surprised that the enemy tried to discourage me. It doesn’t surprise me at all. But fortunately the attacks had the opposite effect; they just confirmed I was on the right path.

And more importantly, these attacks have taught me to pray like never before.

I can now affirm with Paul that “we wrestle not against flesh and blood” (Eph 6:12) and as a result our weapons need to be spiritual for the tearing down of strongholds “for though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds (2 Cor 10:3-4).

Knowing this, let’s rejoice with Paul when he writes “For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans  8:38-39)

Let’s remember to pray and not grow faint. Let’s remember that no matter what the enemy throws at us, we can never be separated from His love!

Keep praying!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Hospital Visit?

Dorcas' niece. I couldn't help but take her picture while I waited.
In an effort to learn all I can about the hospitals and healthcare systems in Mozambique despite the deafening silence coming from the Ministry of Health, I traveled to Gondola --the nearest town to our mission compound-- to try and visit the maternity ward.

Even though Carlos --the director of Rubitano-- had informed me that going there for a visit would an exercise in futility, I was willing to push on any doors. Perhaps God would grant me favor. Perhaps not. But I had to try.

What else was I going to do? I’d been in Mozambique coming on three weeks (by this time) and was no closer to meeting anyone with information.

Why not launch a full-scale frontal attack?

I’d just walk up to the hospital and try to get a mini-tour. The problem, of course, was the language. I needed someone to introduce me... and to translate for me when I got in.

For me that person was Dorcas.

Dorcas and her newborn girl. She's only a few weeks old.
Dorcas is a beautiful girl in her mid-twenties. She was orphaned young and grew up at Maforga. She trained as a teacher, then married a few years later. A few weeks before I got to Maforga, she delivered prematurely. She still had contacts at the hospital from when she’d attended it for prenatal care. Perhaps these contacts would open doors.

A girl could hope, right?

So we arranged to meet early one day and walk to the hospital together to have a look around. We took her newborn girl with us, wrapping her in a cocoon of blankets and hats. All that could be seen were her long eyelashes atop rounded cheeks the size of plums.

She was tiny... and yet perfect in every way.

Dorcas' mother-in-law preparing lunch in her outdoor kitchen.
Navigating the dusty streets of Gondola was tiring and hot. And due to the package we toted, it took us about an hour to reach the hospital from Dorcas house.

Nevertheless, our trek was insightful if not beautiful; it weaved us past markets and through courtyards. Motorbikes zipped past in a fury, dodging semis switch-backing down the Beira Corridor as fast as the police would permit.

The Beira Corridor is a paved two-lane ‘highway’ that connects Zimbabwe to Beira --a large costal city in central Mozambique. Because it’s paved and has fewer pot holes than most Mozambican roads, it is the route of choice for semi-trucks. Day and night they barrel down at break-neck speeds, racing to meet their destinations... or their deaths.

Conversation was difficult until we could get off the main road, but then Dorcas opened up about her life. We chatted happily all the way to the hospital, stopping for baby formula which she bought from an Indian merchant at inflated prices.

-- “Why are you giving formula?” I asked as sweetly as I could. I didn’t want her to feel judged. “Did you have trouble breastfeeding?”
-- “Yes. Since she was two months early, she just wouldn’t suck properly,” she explained. “I tried and tried... but when she wasn’t growing I knew she needed formula.”

Once we got to the hospital, I whipped out my camera then hesitated.
-- “Can I take photos here?” I questioned my guide.
-- “Yes! No problem,” she volleyed with spirit. “No problem at all.”

The entrance to the hospital courtyard.
Surprised at this unexpected freedom, I clicked random pictures of patients waiting outside the various wards. The in-patient ward where AIDS patients came for care was to the right. Tucked behind it was the tuberculosis ward which sat next to the social services office.

People milled restlessly about. No one rushed. No one made much noise.

The main entrance to the hospital was too crowded to navigate with a preterm baby, so we skirted it suspiciously and gawked shamelessly at the ambulance which arrived to collect the hospitals newest transport.

A twisted patient on a stretcher was placed in its charge, presumably taking it to a larger hospital an hour away for more extensive care.

To the left of the main entrance lay the maternity ward where a half-dozen women waited their turn. Some ate while they waited, trying to escape the dusty noon time heat.

Dorcas went inside to talk to the midwives directly while I waited outside with her baby.
.... but then she didn’t return.

The hospital main grounds, just as you enter the courtyard.
Twenty minutes faded into thirty, so I decided to pop my head in and see what what going on.

I found Dorcas immediately but she didn’t look comfortable. She kept shifting her weight from one foot to the other. Four stern faces stood around her in a half-moon, but only one was talking. The mouthpiece was not happy... but in her defense, she didn’t appear to be rude. 

I couldn’t understand their words, so I flashed my best smile in an attempt to disarm them. But it didn’t work. All I got in return were icy stares and silence.

It was clear I’d not be visiting the maternity ward that day. Perhaps never.

What could Dorcas have possibly done to deserve such harsh words? I figured I’d wait for her escape before I asked.

Clearly unwanted, I walked out the front door and rocked Dorcas baby while I waited. A few minutes later, Dorcas found her retreat.

But as we adjusted her baby and blankets before our final escape, another midwife passed by, stopped, and started lecturing poor Dorcas again. Dorcas politely listened, but at first opportunity turned to me and walked me off the hospital grounds.

It was an obvious bust.

Later when I asked Dorcas over ice-cold Fanta and biscuits what they had said, I was not surprised.
-- “They said you could not come in without an official paper from the regional hospital director in Chimoio,” she began. “Then they lectured me about how foolish it would be for them to let you in.”
-- “Foolish? What do you mean?”
-- “They said ‘What if we let her in and she sees blood and faints? If she falls down and hits her head... she could die. Then we would get in big trouble. We cannot be responsible for her. No. She must have the right permission.’”

Apparently, the man who could give me the right permission was not working that day so we could not ask him. What’s more, they confessed to her they thought I was there to spy on them.

When Dorcas told me this, I had to dig a bit deeper. It stank of Cold War intrigue and the mass xenophobia so often found in post-Communist nations.
-- “What do you mean they are concerned I’m a spy?” I queried.
-- “They said that they were worried you were there to spy out what they are doing wrong and get them in trouble,” she explained with a chuckle. I had to chuckle with her. “They think you have come to write a report on how they are bad.”

Honestly... that is not completely wrong. I had no intention of getting anyone in trouble. I just wanted to see for myself if the rumors I kept hearing were true. I don’t doubt the rumors... for who would make up such atrocities?

Stories of beatings and blackmail. Stories of neglect and death. Stories I don’t want to repeat... but might one day write down. Maybe.

When I told Roy later that day what they said, he was not surprised. In fact, he laughed then said, “Guilty consciences often try to hide their sins.” After 27 years, he has heard more than one story from the hospital. All of them cannot be lies.

All I know is I did not find the warm hand of welcome that day. Not at all.

Pinayanga (part two) ~

(Continued from previous post, read first.)

While we waited, Anthony (the untrained medical worker assigned to the post) gathered the mayor’s secretary, who called the mayor, who invited a few more friends. Then someone also sent for the traditional birth attendant who lived down the hill.

Word got out about our visit and several more gathered to hear what the foreigners had to say. All the officials sat on a wooden bench while we stood to address them. Roy spoke of our desire to train midwives, asking if they needed help in this area.

They nodded gravely and explained the troubles they had in reaching town when sick.
“The roads are bad,” they explained, adding that it was too difficult for their pregnant women to get prenatal care. “It’s too expensive to go into town for visits... and for the birth.”
-- “Do they deliver in the hospital sometimes or only at home?” I asked.
-- “Most deliver at home... but when they try to go to the hospital often our women deliver on the road.”
-- “On the road? Really?” I asked pretending surprise. “What do you do then?”
-- “Well... the baby comes and then we take them home.”

About this time, the traditional birth attendant arrived. Her name was Louisa Josepha and she wore a fade patch of fabric on her head, and another equally faded apron around her waist.

Bent slightly as she walked, she took the time to shake each person’s hand in greeting then sat down next to the mayor on the bench.

-- “Thank you so much for coming,” I said, greeting her through my translator Tucha, one of the orphans at the compound and the only one in our group that spoke her language. “I’m happy to meet another midwife.”

She smiled kindly in response, hiding the confusion and interest wrestling under the surface of her face. I could see she was flattered to be among the gathered, but she didn’t seem to understand why. So I started to explain.
The Mayor, Luisa and other towns officials that came to listen.
-- “Ma’m Louisa, I’m trying to learn about your needs as a midwife in the village. Can you tell me... are you the only midwife here?”
-- “Yes,” translated Tucha in Chitchetwe the local language since Louisa did not speak any Portuguese.
-- “Do you have an apprentice at all? Anyone you are training to help you?” I continued on. Everyone waited in interested silence while she responded. Every face turned her direction.

She explained that she did not have an apprentice and often she was too busy to care for the women who called on her. “My legs are weak now. When I’m called to the village 30 kilometers down the road... my feet hurt when I arrive.”
-- “You have to walk 30 kilometers to deliver babies?” I asked in naive disbelief.

At this point the mayor and all the rest of the men piped up to answer for her. They all spoke at once, gesturing this way and that, talking over one another in their desire to elaborate.

Tucha laughed because she didn’t know how to translate anymore; and decided to sum things up with; “There are many villages near by... and she is the only midwife. When called for help, she must walk there. One village is 30 kilometers away that way,” she explained pointing to her right. “The other villagers are 35 kilometers or so that way,” she pointed to her left and smiled. 

Once voices had settled, Louisa continued on; “I walk so slow these days...often I get there too late to catch the baby.”
I nodded that I understood. She was clearly no longer a spring chicken. When I asked her age, she just laughed and shrugged her shoulders as if I’d just asked her to calculate the circumference of the moon.

And we all laughed together happily, then I changed the subject slightly.
-- “Please tell me about your training... are you are nurse?” I asked hopefully.
-- “No.”
-- “Did you get the government midwife training at least?”
-- “Yes. Yes.”
-- “How long is that training? Is it weeks or months?
-- “It is 3 weeks long.”
-- “And does the government give you supplies... like gloves or medicines?” I asked remembering a conversation I had the week before. Roy had taken me to the town of Inchope and we spoke to the town chief and interviewed a nurse at the local clinic. He had explained that the government often paid a small salary and provided basic medicines to traditional birth attendants (TBAs). I wanted to see if that was the case for this village.

But once my question was translated, the crowd exploded again in excited chatter. Everyone had something to say but nearly all of them where shaking their heads. So it wasn’t a surprise when Tucha translated a quite, “No” and then looked at her feet.

-- “How many babies do you deliver a month?” I inquired. She looked put on the spot, so I rephrased it. “I mean... how many a week?”
That question she could answer.
-- “I have two to three babies born each week, or about 10-12 a month,” she explained.
-- “And you do that without any supplies...? Or gloves...? Or razors...?” I prodded.
-- “Yes. I have nothing but these,” she responded, lifting her wrinkled hands for inspection.

Satisfied that I had at least an idea of what I was dealing with, I decided to explain why we had come. “Please let me tell you why I’m asking you all these questions,” I started.

They sat a bit straighter and turned their ears my way in attention while I spoke.
-- “I would like to help the women of your village stay alive in birth. You have seen some women die after having babies here, haven’t you?” I asked presumptuously informed. (The latest statistics place Mozambique in the world’s twenty deadliest country in which to give birth. In Mozambique one out of every 37 women will die in childbirth over her lifetime.)

They nodded uncertainly, but as I explained that women are dying all over Mozambique in childbirth and not just in Pinayanga, they looked less stressed to admit so.
-- “Yes. Our women have died in childbirth,” confessed the mayor gravely.

I acknowledged his words with a slight nod, them moved on.

“But I am also interested in helping your babies stay alive...” I continued on with translation. “What I’d like to do is come to your village each month to help your women get prenatal care, then also take some of your young students to train to be midwives.”

As I detailed the idea and discussed the kind of student I was looking for, they started getting noticeably excited.

-- “But if I train one of your young ladies to take care of your wives and children then you have to build her a clinic to work in. And you have to pay her for her services.”
-- “Yes. Yes,” they broke out in excited chatter. Then while pointing to the building in which we stood they added, “we built this ‘Posto de Secorro’ for Anthony with bricks we made by hand.”
The pride in their voices was unmistakable; I couldn’t help but smile.

The conversation went on like this for some time. I’d ask questions, they’d propose options. They’d ask questions and I’d outline what I had in mind.

By the end of the initial meeting, they asked me how many of their young ladies I was willing to train.
I turned to Roy for help but he just laughed. Finally, I confessed, “To be honest, I was only thinking about training one or two from this village.”
-- “But this village is the hub for nine other villages. Can’t you train a midwife for each of those villages too?”

I smiled deeply at this mayor’s farsightedness. Clearly in his mind, one midwife just wouldn’t cut it. He needed ten.

I stopped and prayed softly under my breath before answering. Lord, I would love to be able to train ten midwives for this area. Please do this and much much more. For Your glory and for Your name sake. Amen.

I smiled and said, “Let’s start with two... and then go from there.”

The Mayor nodded enthusiastically, then asked, “So when do we start? This month?”

Maria and Tucha -my translators.
You should have seen the grin on my face as we drove home that day. When I turned to Roy, he was grinning too. Even Tucha and Maria (the other orphan who came to translate that day) were giddy with excitement. They were thrilled to see how positive the villagers responded to the idea.

All four of us rode home grinning.

Even though the Ministry of Health was still (at least at this point) unwilling to talk, at least we knew that the villagers were positive about the concept.

The door was starting to give way... would it open?

More of my story to come.... sorry it has taken me so long to write. I’m blessed to be so busy these days that I have no time to write all I’m doing and thinking. But I promise to try and catch everyone up.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Pinayanga (part one)

The day after my birthday, Roy arranged for me to go to Pinayanga*, a small village about 30 minutes drive into the bush. There was an untrained medical worker there providing basic healthcare to the people and living in a small clinic that the village had built him. His name is Anthony.

As we bounced down the well-graded road Roy reminisced.
-- “You see that field?” he asked, pointing at a patch of overgrown shrubs. “That used to be rice fields as far as the eye could see.”
I strained hard but could not imagine the cracked clots of vermillion soil soaked in enough water to grow anything rice-like. “Really? Rice fields?” I asked incredulously.
-- “Yes,” he said softly. I could see him stepping back in time in his mind. Remembering.
-- “Is this where you met the rebels?” I asked.
-- “Yes. This is the spot there...” he remembered softly, signaling off to the right.

The week before over a dinner of stewed venison and rice, he had told me about The Rice Field Meeting. It was during the war, not long before he and his wife were taken hostage. Trying to smuggle in food for the starving population, his Land Rover was fired upon by semi-automatic weapons and a rocket launcher. But as they sped through the rebel’s trap, God protected them supernaturally. Of the countless rounds shot their direction, only one stray bullet grazed the hood. No doubt rattled... they had nevertheless made it through unscathed.

But the story didn’t end there.

A few days later an anonymous note was left on Roy’s desk asking for him to secretly meet the rebels in this rice field. He was not sure if it was a trap, so he prayed first, then hopped in his bullet-scratched Land Rover to find out. “What could the rebels possibly want?” he wondered as he road out to meet them under the cover of night.

But once he reached the rice fields, they looked empty. So he waited.

After some time, shrubs started moving and pools of water rippled to reveal rebel soldiers all around him. They literally rose up from plain sight and started walking his way.

He confessed over dinner that when their mud-covered AK-47s started in his direction, he was tempted to worry. What had he gotten himself into this time?

But the overly-friendly smiles on their faces quickly told him he’d not die that night. Instead, they addressed him politely, explaining that they hadn’t eaten in days; the government troops had effectively cut off all their supplies; and now their wives and children were starving in the mountains. Could he help them with food, too?

He readily admitted that his first thought was not Christ-like. Here were the very men who had  tried to shoot him... and they had the gall to ask him for food!

-- “Why should I help you when just last week you shot at me and my family?” he asked half jokingly.
-- “What? When did we try to kill you?” they asked innocently.
-- “I was driving the red Land Rover last week,” he stated flatly. “You shot at me.”
-- “Oh, yes! Yes, we remember you,” they laughed. “That was us shooting!”

Still laughing one man stepped forward and proudly confessed, “I was the one with the rocket launcher.” Then slapping him on the back good-naturedly he asked, “There are no hard feelings are there, brother? This is war.”

What do you say to that?

Long story short, God’s Mercy won the day and by the end of the meeting, Roy had agreed to smuggle them food. He explained to me simply that he was not there to draw political lines; he was there to feed the hungry, cloth the naked, and bind up the broken and wounded. To him there was no difference to a starving orphan and a starving rebel. They both needed Jesus.

His story replayed itself in my thoughts as we bounced further down the road, until he abruptly pointed to a new stretch of road and said, “That road used to be cluttered with land mines.”

I smiled encouraging for him to continue on.

Trish and Roy Perkins.
-- “Just after the war... and before the land mines were cleared, I drove down it on a tractor with Trish and Nana**,” he started to recount. The cogs of memories turning slowly as he drove on.

-- “We drove all the way to Pinayanga and back... and we never hit one land mine,” he added flatly in disbelief at the sound of his own words. “I cannot believe that I did something so stupid... but I did,” he confessed with a slight chuckle then asked, “What was I thinking?”

Then he grew quiet again withdrawing into his memories.

Then we bounced on silently again... and I waited for more. Hoped for me. More was sure to come.

A few minutes passed then he continued. “You know... it took me two months working six days a week to clear this road.”
-- “How did you do it?” I asked expectantly.
-- “I bought a metal detector... then slowly walked every inch of it,” he started. “It was painfully long work as every coin and paper clip would send off the alarms.”
-- “Wow,” I whispered. “You did this by yourself?”
-- “Yes.”

I could not help but smile as he spoke. Here sat a man who was so moved by the needs he saw in this war-scarred country, that he has spent the last 27 years of his life feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and binding up the wounded. Sometimes that meant having midnight meetings with rebels. Other times that meant digging up land mines. Most often it meant making sure nearly a hundred orphans have their next meal.

When we parked in front of the Medical outpost my smile widened. This was EXACTLY what I imagined it would be. A small brick building painted white with blue trim sporting a simple sign in hand-painted cobalt blue: “Posto de Socorro.”

To be continued...

 *Pinayanga means Witchdoctor’s Cauldron in the local tongue. Even though the famous witchdoctor has long since passed, it is still a hotbed for witchcraft to this day.

**Trish is Roy’s wife and Nana was the nurse who ran the medical clinic until 7 years ago when she had to retire and the clinic closed.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Mozambican Birthday.


(This post comes almost two weeks late because of my pitiful luck with electrical gremlins and pathetic internet access. Sorry for the delay...  :- ) 

Don’t laugh... but I spent my birthday this year reading.
            --Yep. Reading.

Not having any meetings to attend or local officials to meet (as I’m still waiting to hear back from the director of the ministry of health), I decided to dig into the Natural Medicine in the Tropics book by Dr. Hans Martin Hirt and Bindanda M’Pia. (Check out their amazing work with this link.)

All I can say is... I’m inspired. All I want to do is plant things and watch them grow.

Already I’ve had the chance to see some of these natural remedies in action... and they work! The cough syrup you already know about... but do you know that you can use garlic as a natural antibiotic?!

A boy was brought to me with a severely infected and pus-filled wound recently. It was so nasty, there was quite a bit of debate as to whether or not he should start antibiotics immediately. But having just read this book, I suggest he bind it first overnight with a garlic compress then re-evaluate in the morning.

Well... one night of the garlic compress however was all it took. The next morning, the pain was gone along with the pus-filled infection. Antibiotics were not needed after all!

Oh how I love garlic!

Oh, but I digress... I meant to share about my birthday.

To be brief... my day was filled with books; my night was filled with cake --delicious, strawberry cake.

The middle school aged orphan girls baked me a two layered white cake and filled it with strawberry jam and topped it with butter frosting.

Although not the prettiest cake I’ve ever seen, it certainly rivaled some the finest of bakeries in taste! It was delicious!

Plus the girls honored me in song, singing Happy Birthday in harmonized sopranos and altos. Believe me, having a dozen well-trained voices serenade you for your birthday is delightful!

(Mavis, the woman who runs the girl’s home used to teach music and voice back in here native land of England. She has taught the girls well!)

My new capulana (aka: African print).
As a gift, the high school girls bought me a capulana --a traditional African print which is worn as a skirt. It’s green, blue, black, and white. I absolutely love it!

The beautiful S. African Milk Tart.
But my birthday celebration didn’t end there; the following day a fellow missionary introduced me to Dutch Milk Tart --a South African specialty. It took her all day, as you have to make it all from scratch. But boy was it worth it!
            --Absolutely delicious... and unlike any tart I’ve ever tasted before.

I have to say, I’ve really enjoyed my birthday this year thanks to all my dear friends across the world and here locally. Thank you all for helping me mark the day!

May the next 35 years be equally blessed and full of friends!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Widows and Orphans~

Carlos (pronounced Kar-lo-sh in Portuguese) is a highly trained Mozambican nurse who was raised at Maforga’s boy’s home when he was a kid.

God opened the door for him to go to Bible college, then nursing school. Once he graduated, he returned to his home and started Rubitano, a non-profit designed to help HIV/AIDS patients get access to and stay on their retrovirals.

Married now with four playful children, he and his family live at Maforga, but his work takes him into the heart of the community.

God has used him to start a community-based work, involving more than 900 volunteers. After a training process, the volunteers (usually drawn from the various churches within the community) come together three times a week to visit HIV/AIDS patients from house to house.

Sometimes they come to clean and cook for those unable to care for themselves. Other times they come to make sure the medicines are being taken and no other infections have begun. Sometimes to come to make sure the patient is still alive. But always they come to pray.

I had the privilege of going on a few house calls with them last week to learn what kind of obstacles this country faces in terms of HIV/AIDS.

It is well established that Mozambique is dying of AIDS. Conservative estimates state that one in four people are HIV positive; those most effected are in the 20’s and 30s. As a result, half of the population is under the age of 16 or over the age of 50.

It’s a nation of widows and orphans.

The first family we visited, the grandmother greeted us with her three week grandchild in her arms. The mother of the little girl was the HIV patient, but she was nowhere to be found. Mental illness has kept her in a manic state that has only worsened since the birth.

They were unsure yet if her child is HIV positive but they assured us that the mother was taking the retrovirals regularly. So we talked about how to get them a front door on their mud hut then prayed and moved on.

The next patient we visited was in her seventies. Her eyes clouded with cataracts allowed only the shape of our faces to shine through --not the details. So naturally, she did not bother to turn her face toward ours in greeting. Instead she lifted her calloused hands upward to shake our hands one by one.

She complained of an ulcerated infection on her foot that was refusing to heal, but was otherwise in good health. I suggested she make a garlic compress for it, but she worried out loud that she did not have any garlic... nor did she know how to get some.

       -- Lord... is she so poor as to not to be able to afford the pennies needed for garlic?
       -- Yes, my child.
       -- Lord... can I give her the money?
       -- No, my child. I am doing a work here.
       -- Oh, Lord. First they need a front door. Now they need simple medicines.
       -- Yes. I know. But you are not their Provider, nor are you their Healer. I am. Trust me and pray.
       -- Yes, Lord. I will trust... and I will obey.

So we prayed for her, then walked on.

As we walked to the next house we traveled down the main street in town where children waved and called repeatedly “How-ou are you-ou?” at me while I passed. When I answered them, they giggled loudly then ran off.

The next house we visited had a small garden attached. It is cared for by two sisters living together. They have both been widowed due to AIDS. And they too are infected with the virus.

One is much worse off than the other and struggled to stand long enough to greet us. Her thin frame jarred out at knobby angles underneath yards of printed fabrics. Her head hung low. Her eyes down cast.

We spent lots of time learning about her retroviral regiment and the frequency of her doctor visits. We discussed which foods might help make her stronger and how she might get them. But eventually, the best thing we could do for them was pray.

So we prayed, then moved on.

The next family we met was muslim. The patient we went to visit is not only HIV positive, she is blind. Her medicines are working, and as a result she was vigorous and strong despite her HIV status.

Thrilled to have so many visitors, she had her family gather all the stools in the house and we sat down in a circle around her. As we spoke, children and chickens milled about.

She was happy to have us pray for her... even though she was Muslim, explaining that she had only recently converted to Islam after her local pastor started charging her to go to church.

She was told that if she wanted to attend the Assembly of God church near her house, she would have to pay the pastor 500 meticais a month (roughly $20.00 USD). This is a fortune!
Unable to afford such extortion, she decided to follow Islam instead. But she assured us she still loved Jesus very much and that she’d be happy to have us pray for her if we liked.


I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or cry. So we all bowed our heads and prayed instead.
      -- Lord, chasten that pastor for his greed and continue to care for this child of Yours. Amen.
The last house we visited belonged to a mother of many. I do not recall how many kids she had... but I do remember that her husband had abandoned them long ago.

We talked about her medicines, her health, and her roof. Apparently, she is unable to live in her house at the moment and fears the coming rains. Daily the holes in the roof get worse and worse, allowing in both rain and shine. She is having to sleep at a neighbor’s house until something can be done.

As we spoke and eventually prayed, a large group of children gathered to listen in. Perched on an exposed tree root just above where we sat, they strained their ears to hear what we had to say and stayed curiously still in the process. Only slight giggles could be heard.

But as I lifted my camera to capture their sweet faces, the giggles bubbled up into contagious laughter. And God reminded me once again... children are the same the world over. Whether in the misty mountain of the Philippines or the sun-baked sands of Mozambique, if given the chance to have their picture taken... children will jump for joy and start making faces!

In time we said our goodbyes and slowly made our way back to the Rubitano headquarters where I met up with Carlos again.

He then explained to me how the ministry relies on some small grants, but is mostly funded by a chicken project they started a few years back. The chicken project pays some of the staff salaries and provides revenue for community food projects and outreaches.

I love seeing what God is doing in and through this program. I love seeing how it provides a need for the community while using the resources within that community. I love seeing God’s people being the hands and feet to the lost and hurting.

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this:
to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself
 from being polluted by the world." James 1:27

Lord bless this work. Provide for your children. Touch these hurting and needy. Use Your people to do it. May we be Your hands and feet. Amen.

The Waterfall~

 The mission compound, Maforga, sits on roughly 900 hectares of land which includes more than a few hills and valleys, massive trees, and a river. There is even a waterfall.

During the dry season (meaning now), the river is shallow but clear; during the wet season (Nov-March), it rages and will sometimes knock out the stone bridge on the short access road.

When I first go here, I was told about the waterfall... but not which path I needed to take to get to it. So this week, I decided it was time I found out. I figured it would be dryer than usual due to the current drought, but I was hopeful nevertheless.

A short-term American missionary named Natalie joined me on this adventure. And together we strapped on our shoes... and marched off on this new adventure.

The hike out there took quite some time, but the late afternoon haze offered a easy relief from the heat. The sandy road we followed narrowed to a one-man path in short order, leaving us wondering as to whether or not we were headed in the right direction.

Perhaps we were lost. Perhaps we were on the wrong path.

We discussed it briefly then realized we didn’t care and walked on, happily discussing politics and missions work as we marched.

Beneath each step, brittle stocks of yellowed straw lined the paths and poked through my flip-flops. To our backs a wall of eucalyptus held back the smokey blasts of winter wind, allowing us to walk on undisturbed.

Clumps of dirt, broken up like a scab, lay interspersed with browned weeds and parched shrubs. Hills blended into valleys before us --each equally blighted and crusted with drought. A few large trees haphazardly dotted the slopes, but many of them were unnaturally yellowed on one side. Only when we approached could we see the reason why.

Forest fires which had recently raged about their roots had sent waves of heat toward their branches. The leaves which were fortunate enough not to burn, baked to a dark yellow but tenaciously refused to fall from their limbs.

However as the hilltop we walked sloped down toward the valley, the shrubs turned greener and more dense. By the time we reached the valley floor, the ground was moist and the leaves lush.

I could hear the river long before I could see it.

The rushing currents sounded like applause in a distant stadium. As we passed a dry tributary to the river, stepping over dry moss coated stones in the process, I could feel the river as well. Its moist breath caressed my cheek. Its slick fingers curled my hair.

Water. Lovely water!

As I approached the river, I had to crouch down to keep from hitting my head on the low hanging branches, but I also had to watch my step. The terrain quickly turned rocky... and wet.

Let me just say... hopping from one slime-covered boulder to the next was not easy in flip-flops, but it was fun.

There was a felled tree which bridged the waterfalls’ rocky ravine, its wide trunk still sported all its bark, and a few of its roots were still grounded. I could not help but wonder if someone helped this tree to fall, or if it were just a happy coincidence.

I could not resist rushing out to the middle for a picture. Easily two and a half feet in diameter, it didn’t seem to notice my presence. But once out there, vertigo set in and my mind quickly reminded me that I was no longer a kid.

Worse yet, the 25 foot drop to the stoney river bed would most likely cause more than one broken bone! Normally, my brain does not worry about silly little things like heights. So I figured it was the Lord screaming at me instead, and quickly obeyed.

We had come too late in the day to dilly-dally; we could not afford to get lost on our way back. So my friend and I stayed only long enough to get some nice pictures, then we slowly hiked back.

All in all, it was a lovely hike.

Since it is still so green and lush in the midst of a drought... I cannot help but wonder what it must look like in the rainy season.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Homemade Cough Syrup

Squeeze the lemons. Need 1 cup.
The other day someone complained that there was a lot of coughing going around the orphanage and it was too expensive to buy cough syrup in town. So I suggested we make a batch of our own instead.

I started by looking into some of the tropical medincine books hanging around the compound to see if someone had already figured out a recipe. I was thrilled to find the following recipe almost immediately. Plus all the ingredients were easy and (more or less) cheap to find.

I just finished my first batch today and it turned out great. Good luck on your own batch! 
Stir sugar into boiling water.

First you have to make Honey Wine, then you make the Cough Elixir. I'm very pleased with the taste. 

Honey Wine:
Honey Wine is used as a basic liquid for medicinal wines and syrups. If prepared well it contains 12-14% alcohol.

Honey** 2.5 liters

Stir for 15 mins at a high boil.
Water 2.25 liters
Fruit juice* 0.25 liters (or 1/4 bottle or 1 cup)
Yeast ½ teaspoon (brewers yeast or normal baking yeast)
**If you do not have honey, use sugar (2 kg) with 2.75 liters of water, 0.25 juice, and ½ teaspoon of yeast.
* You can use the juice for any fruit (i.e. mango, orange, lemon). It’s needed to supply the eyast with the minerals needed.

Boil the honey or sugar, water and fruit jice mixture for 15 minutes. Filter and pour into a 5 liter container (preferably glass, otherwise plastic). Leave to cool. Add the yeast.
Yeast is added once wine is cool.

Drill a little hole in the lid of the container adn insert a thin tube (i.e. a tube used for medical infusions). The other end of the tube is inserted into a mug filled with water. This has the effect that the surplus carbon dioxide can escape but no atmospheric oxygen can enter the container and spoil the wine.  

Keep the container in a warm place and shake it gently every day. After 2-3 weeks th efermeneting process is finished. Filter the wine through a clean cloth. Store teh wine in an airtight bottle in a cool, dark place.  
Pound out Eucalyptus leaves.

Cough Elixir:
Honey wine 5 liters
Eucalyptus leaves 250 grams --(dried and pounded)

Mix and keep in a warm place, covered but not tightly closed, for 5 days. Filter and store in airtight bottles in a cool, dark place.   

Adults 1 teaspoon, 3 times daily
Add eucalyptus only when wine is done.
Children 20-40 drops, 3 times daily

Recipe reproduced with permission.
“Natural Medicine in the Tropics” by Dr. Hans Martin Hirt and Bindanda M’pia. Published: by anamed (Action for Natural Medicine), Schafweide 77, 71364 Winnenden, Germany

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Baby Maria

Baby Maria is sitting on the bed next to Trish Perkins.
Baby Maria wasn’t an orphan when she came to Maforga --not exactly. Her father is still living, but he’s old. Very old.

A month ago, he brought her swollen body to Roy and Trish and begged them to help. Her mother had just died of AIDS in the village and she was not far behind.

Afflicted with a severe case of kwashiorikor --a form of malnutrition due to protein deficency—she barely moved from the pain in her joints and the swelling in her limbs. It didn’t help any that she was also HIV positive.

When I first met her, she was sitting up and considerably improved. But even though the swelling from the kwashiorikor had subsided, she still struggled to gain weight.

But we were hopeful.

It was hard to tell her age by looking at her though. Had I gone by the look in her eyes, I would have guessed her to be well passed a hundred. But in actuality, she was about 10 months old. The thing was... she weighed little more than a newborn.

Only time would tell if she would improve.

We prayed for her daily while her caregivers pestered her hourly to eat even the smallest of morsels.

I checked on her from time to time. But when I did, I usually found her sleeping. Her eyes closed, her chin tucked, and her twig-like frame lay listlessly on the cot. When I stroked her face, she wouldn’t flinch. When I pressed her hand, she would not make the slightest acknowledgement.

Once she opened her glassy black eyes to look upon her aggressor, but quickly unimpressed she closed them again to rest. What little energy remained was focused on keeping her heart beating... and her lungs full of air.

Day after day, her caregivers spent hours getting her to swallow a few bites of fortified porrige, but even the will to swallow had passed.

She had clearly given up.

Life clung only to the frayed edges of her soul and stirred softly in the ever darkening expression in her eyes. It was clear she was trying to say goodbye.

Everyday she fought a little less. Everyday she drifted a little further away.

Yesterday she died.


Is it wrong of me to feel relieved? Do you think me heartless for it? I’m heartbroken she passed away, but I’m thankful her suffering has ended.

She is the very reason I want to work here –she and her nameless mother.

Why do we have orphans dying of AIDS in Africa? There is no trite and simple answer to that question. There just isn’t.

But roll back the calendar a year and a half to when Maria’s mother first conceived. How much different could her pregnancy and birth have been had she had a midwife to help her in the village? How much healthier could she have been had she taken the retrovirals... or had access to them in the first place?

What if during her birth, her midwife could have reduced the risk of transmission of HIV and Maria had been born free of this corrosive blood sucking virus?

What if... what if...

I’m not saying I have the solution to all the woes of Mozambique. And I’m certainly not saying that I can save them all.

But seriously what is the alternative... to do nothing? –to watch them die slow, emaciated deaths? --to plant their brittle bones in the ground and walk on?

Is that really an alternative?

Please pray with me today. I seriously need your prayers. Right now all the doors seems to be curiously closed to me and what I want to do. Please plead for God to open the doors and grant favor for me to discuss my ideas with the local powers that be.

I need to start somewhere. Why not here?