Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Security Concerns

There has been a lot in the news about this place. My country of residence's army has invaded their neighbors to the north east to try to root out the religious extremist group that has been slipping across the border to spread their reign of terror. So, of course, there have been threats of reprisal. Two attacks in the capital yesterday. Warnings to stay away from public places such as restaurants and shopping malls. For the first time, I've seen armed police patrolling our hospital grounds (armed but wearing flip-flops!) so I know the government is concerned.
And of course, my friends are writing, expressing their own questions about our safety, their concerns that we are well.
We are safe. Relatively.
We pray. We trust. We try to obey what God has called us to do. (That calling is also for you, by the way, because the Great Commission isn't just for those of us who have decided to cross cultures and oceans for the sake of the gospel. It is for all Christians.)
We follow common sense precautions.
But friends, we have made a choice. No one forces us to take risks.
Other risks exist for me. This week alone, I've done four major abdominal operations on patients with AIDS. Sure, I take precautions, wear two pair of gloves, eye protection etc., but there is always the risk of an inadvertent needle-stick.
What could possibly motivate me to leave the relative safety of America, expose myself to the threat of terror and the risk of deadly virus contraction?
The joy of sharing the good news of Christ and having one of those AIDS patients confess new-found faith in the cross.
I want to see God treasured in the hearts of all people.
I am reading more of David Platt this week. This morning, from his book, "Radical Together," I read:
"God has called us to lock arms with one another in single-minded, death-defying obedience to one objective: the declaration of his gospel for the demonstration of his glory to all nations. This is God’s design for his people, and it is worth giving our lives to see it accomplished."
Sometimes I think that those who warn me to avoid risk don't believe in the reality of hell. Don't they believe that there are some things for which it is worth exposing ourselves to risk? How about the risk of spending an eternity without Christ (not for me, I'm certainly not doing this because I'm trying to win a spot in heaven, but for those I've come to serve)?
We follow the lead of Christ. He risked everything for me. I love him. I want others to love and cherish him, too.
And that's worth risking my life for.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

My Trip to Dadaab

During the months leading up to our move back to Kenya, Dadaab was frequently in the news. Lately, it has fallen from the front pages, slipping from the attention of western media who are more concerned with Hollywood, which star was seen with whom, who was arrested, and what he or she was wearing.
Dadaab. Yawn. Why should we care?
Dadaab plays desert host to five camps, home for nearly 500,000 Somali refugees.
They arrive, one thousand in number EACH DAY. Malnourished and driven from their homeland by violence and famine. And Dadaab becomes their refuge.
But as I sat and experienced Dadaab last week, I wondered at how such a desolate, hot place could be considered a refuge.
It's all a matter of perspective, huh? At least in Dadaab, the refugees aren't dodging bullets from Al Shabaab. At least they are given a small ration of oil, sugar and grain.
I arrived with a small team eager and willing to do surgery in a primitive camp hospital. There, I found a hardworking staff accustomed to doing without. There was a gunfight on the Somali border. They brought some of the wounded to us. One boy (was he Al Shabaab?) was carried in suffering from a gunshot wound to the neck. He had obvious spinal cord injury. I wanted an x-ray, but none was available in the camp hospital. We could move him (risky) to a local district hospital, but they don't do x-rays on the weekend. OK, so I felt I was being asked to fight Mike Tyson with one arm.
The UN council for refugees have been trying to resettle the Somalis, but I was told they only moved 800 refugees out last year. When you compare that to the thousand that arrive everyday, you understand the math of overcrowding.
I spoke to a Kenyan working for the Kenyan CDC. He spoke in solemn terms: "We've logged over a thousand cases of measles in the camps since July." Wow. I guess vaccinating our children against these horrible diseases is a good idea.
In the midst of the camps, the UN staff stay in a compound surrounded by a triple razor wire fence. In the evenings, they gather at outdoor tables and drink cold Tusker beer and in general seem to try to forget the suffering around them. I cannot pretend to understand what motivates them. Guilt? Perhaps they get a charge out of life in a dangerous setting? Perhaps they are working at understanding their own plight? Maybe they enjoy patting themselves on the back for a good deed done to the poor.
What about me?
My motives are impure. Sure, I desire to see Christ treasured by all people. I desire to be light in a very dark place. I want to love the refugees or at least be a channel of Christ's love to a people without much hope. For me, this isn't have-to work. It's get-to, a matter of grace. But, somewhere within my motivation to serve Christ by serving the poor, I too, enjoy the admiration of others, the excitement of working in a place where armed escorts are the norm and the odds are stacked against you. But, in my honesty, I come back to Christ and offer my work as a gift of gratitude. My gift is far from perfect and my motives will never be pure, but I'm encouraged that God never requires me to perfect my motives before offering what I've got in my hand.
It was a long trip, nearly 12 hours of bus-travel, culminating in getting stuck in the sand just outside our UN compound in Dadaab.
Yes, Dadaab is a hard, dry, hot place, where time crawls with sweaty determination. For a half-million refugees, it's home with no other destination in sight (some have lived there for twenty-plus years!). At the end of a few days, I got back on a bus and headed for greener pastures, a luxury not afforded those whose life is defined by a number assigned by the UNHCR.
The contrast of seeing Dadaab is good for me. I think I'll whine less. Praise more.
And soon, I'll return to serve Jesus there again. Because I'm pretty sure He lives there too.