Tuesday, April 24, 2012

I've been home for over a month now. It has taken me that long to collect my thoughts, upload pictures, and more or less, get back into the swing of things here at home.

I'd be lying if I said I didn't welcome the comfort of a hot shower, a toilet that flushes, and my own soft, warm bed after having lived in a tent for two weeks.

But now that I'm home, I'd also be lying if I told you I didn't miss my sleeping bag, my roomie, and the night sounds in the African bush...living in community with like minded souls dedicated to a common purpose...rising to the challenge.

I'd be lying if I told you I prefer heavy traffic, crowded shopping malls, and flashing fluorescent lights to sharing stories around a campfire under the glittering African sky after supper every night.


Go ahead...ask me where I'd prefer to practice medicine--under the cold scrutiny of an intrusive legal system...or in the grateful embrace of a person who has all but given up hope.

This man had suffered an untreated open fracture
of his right tib-fib four months earlier.

I titled this blog "Cherished Illusions" for a reason. By illusions I mean the misconceptions we cling to because of what we have read or been told or experienced in the past that informs what we hold to be true...whether we are right or wrong. They are cherished because we cling to them with such tenacity...such obstinance...such a sense of entitlement...until

...everything changes!

Back in October, when I received a call from a total stranger asking if I would be interested in joining a medical mission to Tanzania, I jumped at the opportunity. When she said that a patient of mine had given her my name...I cautioned her that I had no special expertise in this area, no prior experience, nor any exceptional skills that qualified me for this kind of undertaking. But because they needed a doctor...I agreed to give it a try. In truth, I'd have given anything to get back to Africa.

As it turned out, I had agreed to travel with a group from Christian Life Assembly http://www.christianlife.com/ --a large, evangelical church known for its charismatic brand of praise and worship.

My spirit, however, is grounded in solitude, in quiet contemplation, in endless questioning, and solemn reverence. So among people whose worship is spontaneous, open, and expectant, I felt like something of a misfit...

...a misfit and a skeptic. Because as eager as I was to make this trip, I was well aware of the body of evidence that points to the abject failure of international aid to Africa. So I was torn between my own self-serving motivations for making this trip (I'd been to Zambia a few years back and I longed for a reason to return to Africa.) and what I felt to be the naive but honorable intentions embraced by the rest of the team. Frankly, I doubted we could accomplish anything enduring in just two weeks. Our supplies were limited. We had to work through interpreters. We had no opportunity for follow-up with the patients we treated. And then we would be gone.We couldn't promise anyone a permanent cure or lasting relief...a virtual mandate in America.

I questioned the wisdom behind the entire endeavor.

But no one else appeared to see it that way. It was enough for them to offer just one patient a bit of relief for just one day. That alone was justification enough to undertake this mission. To them, the fact that we extended friendship, compassion, and hope to the people of Lobosoit was its own reward.

And, you know, I came to believe that they were right. BAM! My expectations changed. My skepticism melted away. In Lobosoit, I came to believe that healing, like peace, is achieved one person at a time. If you do the best you can with what you have, someone will thank you for it.

One hand held...one heart touched...one friendship forged.

I shed a few illusions in Lobosoit. I gained a new appreciation and respect for charismatic worship. I cast off skepticism and apprehension. And I came to see our contribution as one piece in a vast puzzle that everyone is working on--how to preserve ancestral traditions as third world cultures are swept up into the global mainstream, how to protect the environment, and how to achieve equality among the people. 

Africa is a place that nourishes my spirit. The endless scenic wilderness, the glittering night sky, and the fact that life goes on in the wild without any interference from mankind stands in stark contrast to the daily grind.

The residents of Lobosoit came to us out of desperation, seeking hope as much as healing. We were rewarded with their trust. Their shy smiles. And finally, their warmth and friendship.

And, we left with a promise: that they will not be forgotten. That they can count on our enduring support and assistance.

That they can count on us to continue this work. And I can hardly wait until we do! 
"If you wish to experience peace, provide peace for another.
If you wish to know that you are safe, cause another to know that they are safe.
If you wish to better understand seemingly incomprehensible things,
 help another to better understand.
If you wish to heal your own sadness or anger,
seek to heal the sadness or anger of another."
--Dalai Lama--
In my final post, I'll offer a few words of thanks.
Be still--

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