Saturday, April 19, 2014

In Memory of Sebastian... And All The Others Like Him

While I was living in The Republic of Congo (ROC) I visited Baby Crèche Orphanage. 
I had waited to go, because I knew what would happen when I did.

The first time I went I spent the whole time with a baby boy named Sebastian. He was withdrawn, somber and weak.  He had long, skinny legs, just skin and bones, sad eyes, and a disproportionately large, round stomach. 

I’m a sucker for the ones who you have to work to get a smile out of – I take it as a personal challenge. And with Sebastian, it was sure a challenge.

I went back to the ship, and what I had feared would happen took place. After a few days of thinking about and praying for Sebastian, I began to research the adoption process for Republic of Congo. Several weeks of emails to anyone and everyone I could find who knew anything about international adoption in ROC eventually led me to the conclusion that it wasn’t possible for me to pursue adopting little Sebastian at this point.

The Republic of Congo doesn’t allow single adoptive parents under age 35, and even then only allows same gender adoptions for single parents. It would cost over $7000 just to put together the paperwork to even ASK a judge to make exceptions to both these rules. Not only that, but being in the country with him actually made it harder, if not impossible to start the process. I’m pretty sure the US government wouldn’t accept a home study of my 6-berth cabin.

I visited Sebastian and the other babies at the Baby Creche orphanage a few more times before I left. As we were leaving, some of the other Mercy Shippers would say things like, “Doesn’t it just make your day to hold those babies?”

“No”, I would think to myself, “it absolutely ruined my day.”

How can I go about my day normally - where there’s no question in my mind about whether or not I’ll have supper, or if something happens if I’ll have someone there to support me - when I’ve had this fresh reminder of all those without their basic needs met and without anyone to look out for them?

Defend the weak and the fatherless;
uphold the cause of the poor
 and the oppressed.
Psalm 82:3

Today I found out that Sebastian passed away this past Friday. Malnourished, abandoned, and with no one to make his problems their problems, he slipped out of this life.

Grief, guilt, and sorrow coalesce somewhere in the depths of my heart. You all will tell me not to blame myself, and really, I know it's true.

But I can’t help but wonder how many kids just like Sebastian died today.
And I can’t help but wonder if there’s something I could have done about it.

According to the World Food Programme, "poor nutrition causes nearly half (45%) of deaths in children under five - 3.1 million children each year." 

Let me do the math for you - that’s 8,493 a day.


There is no getting around the sheer injustice of this. 

How many of us, had we sacrificed something that we “need” or want, could have made a difference in the lives of one or more of these helpless children? When I compare the value of spending $28,000 on the new car I'm looking at versus putting my resources towards LITERALLY SAVING LIVES, the car doesn't seem like as much of a necessity. 

“Christ has no body on earth but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which
Christ’s compassion for the world is to look out;
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good;
And yours are the hands with which He is to bless us now.”
-Saint Teresa of Avila

I've seen it. 

I've seen lives transformed by the generosity of people willing to put other's needs above their own comfort. 

I've seen lives saved by surgery on a big white ship funded by donors and staffed by volunteers. 

I've seen orphans become sons and daughters of men and women who understand Christ's love so deeply that they're willing to do for others what he did for us. 

“'He defended the cause of the poor and needy, 
and so all went well. 
Is that not what it means to know me?’ 
declares the LORD.” 
Jeremiah 22:16

Far too often the hugeness of the need for justice in this world paralyzes us, stopping us from doing the things that we can do to make a difference. Relief organizations like Compassion International, Mercy ShipsThe Hunger Site, Charity: Water, and so many others save and transform lives. Development programs like Plant With A Purpose and Trade As One create sustainable resources in a community, break cycles of poverty, and lead to lasting change.

It starts with denying ourselves more excess (or reevaluating what we perceive as needs), so that others in the world, like Sebastian, can have their basic needs met. 

“If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor,
 he too will cry out and not be answered.” 
Proverbs 21:13

 Let's make a difference, friends. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Ramblings On Living With Purpose

First off, let me apologize for my lack of consistency in blogging. 

I promise I've had good intentions, even several partially written posts, but have clearly lacked the follow through to actually post them. 

As I prepared to leave the Africa Mercy, I wrote the following in my journal, which helps to summarize my time on board.

“There’s such a sense of purpose, passion and love here. I can’t express how much it bubbles up in my heart even writing this. Face after face flashes through my mind, each one bringing with it a surge of joy, grief, compassion, laughter, heartbreak or even regret.

We’ve experienced a whole range of stories – stories of hope and victory, tragedy and loss, commitment and love, hard work and triumph.

We’ve fought for the lives of children with aggressive malignancy that the ship doesn’t have the capability to treat; we’ve grieved together with their families when they’ve passed.

We’ve prayed and prayed for wounds to heal, grafts to take and infections to clear.

We’ve rejoiced when we’ve seen God faithfully answer our prayers, and shed tears when it seems he hasn’t.

We’ve bonded with patients who have been in the ward for months – and felt the tearing of celebration and loss when they’ve finally been well enough for discharge. 

The Africa Mercy is not perfect. Where people are, there is messiness. 400 people from 35 different countries living on one ship makes for a decent amount of mess. But when we remember why we’re here – the girl fighting for her life just a few decks below, the mama bringing her son in for his follow up appointment, the boy sitting in the screening tent who never thought he’d be able to go to school again because of the gaping hole in his face, the man who was lead up the gangway yesterday and today leaves with his sight restored – it puts everything into perspective.

It makes tight living quarters, 2-minute showers, being a 30+ hour trip away from home, having little choice and variety in what you eat, sharing everything – it makes it worth it. Beyond worth it. “

As I look to the future, to life after Mercy Ships, it’s that sense of defined, tangible purpose that seems the biggest loss. Even on the days when I would wake up discouraged or unmotivated, all I had to do was walk 50 feet down the hallway to the hospital, and my spirit was revived with a renewed sense of “yes, this is why I’m here.”

In the west, we view healthcare as a right, not a privilege. Because of how our healthcare system has evolved, as healthcare professionals we often find ourselves more focused on avoiding being sued or fired, rather than being completely focused on fighting for the wholeness of our patients.

The things that we’re putting so much effort and resources into advocating for - building hospitals with only private rooms or buying wifi IV pumps to monitor each button a nurse presses - seem trival compared to the massive yet basic problems facing those in the developing world.

A Congolese friend, as I was asking about the hospitals in Congo, told me “If you don’t have money, even if you are dying, you might as well leave the hospital. No one there will help you.”

The thought of going back to working in an environment where abundance is taken for granted makes me feel empty and tired.

But then I remember the reason why we don’t remove giant tumors from people’s faces and repair decade old burn contractures to restore movement and function in the U.S.  It’s because those tumors are removed when they are tiny, and those burns are treated immediately after they occur, preventing contractures. The preventative medicine we’ve developed in the West keeps us from having to deal with the extreme cases we see in the developing world. 

I believe that healthcare should be a right for every person in the world. What I desire for my patients on the Africa Mercy is what my patients in the states have – but to the point of excess.

So, the ever present and paralyzing question: What can we do? 

We can live lives of purpose where we are. We can remember the poor and suffering by doing what we do well, and by giving sacrificially in our daily lives and seemingly menial decisions. For those of us who know Jesus, we must continually ask ourselves, are we willing to let Him interrupt any and every area of our lives? It doesn’t mean He will, but if he asks, will we hear Him, and will we respond? 

As my plane was circling Pointe-Noire with an unlocked aft cabin door, the pilot's nervous voice once again came over the intercom, “ok folks, we’ve had a bit more difficulty, I’m going to try to make one more circle to burn off fuel and then we’ll make the emergency landing.” I had a little “am-I-ready-to-meet-Jesus” moment. Maybe I was being dramatic, maybe I was over emotional (not maybe, I was), but I honestly sat, praying, contemplating if I was ready.

I would have plenty of regrets if I hadn't made it through that flight. But the one thing I’d never regret would be giving myself and anything I have away. I’m not the most generous, not the most sacrificial person, but more and more I’m convinced that I want to be.

I don’t want to count any area of my life too precious to be sacrificed for the sake of serving God and loving people.  There’s nothing more I desire in life than to bow before Jesus and know that I gave all that I could.