Saturday, December 12, 2015

Where is your Home?

Where is your home?  For many of us living and working overseas this is a tough question to answer!  During this upcoming Christmas season many of us are heading "home" to see family and enjoy the festivities of our Saviors birth.  For many fleeing war, persecution, their homes destroyed, they don't know where home will be.  I remember when we first arrived in Liberia and listening to our staff talk about loosing their homes during the war and having to live in refugee and IDP camps for years.  Having no place to call our own, no place to hang our clothes, lay our head, no place to invite people for dinner- for many in the world today this is their reality.

When we were evacuated from our home here in Liberia due to Ebola-I realized that we had no place to go.  Yes, we had family we could stay with , we could stay in a hotel for a bit-but we had no home to go to.  Along with this harsh reality, we were told due to weight restrictions on the DC-3 we could only take 20lbs of luggage with us. Twenty pounds...ten years of our life in this little house and we could take 20lbs not knowing when we could come back.  But please don't feel sorry for me-it was a good lesson and one I am glad I had to go through.

Our little home here in Liberia not much to look at...

But this is our view!

In the past few months our SP team have been responding to the European refugee crisis.  It's called a crisis because that is what it is, hundreds of thousands of people having to leave their home because of war and persecution.  That is a crisis.  I have had the opportunity to help our team in a transit camp on the Croatia -Serbia border and at a transit camp on the Greek island of Chios. All of these experiences both personally and in our work has really driven home to me that this place, earth, this world is not my home. 

Croatia transit camp-home for many refugees on the journey to a new home.

I am a refugee.  No, not in the UNHCR definition-but as a follower of Christ, this earth is not my home.  And boy am I glad!  In a world of so much suffering, much of which we see first hand, it is hard to keep you joy tank me. It's very easy to let satan discourage us, whispering and at times yelling, "See all of this suffering? You can't do anything, just when you think you are helping there are more deaths, sickness, violence, injustice, abuse...where is your God now?".  Man I would like to punch him in the nose!  But it's true, all of those things are in the world but they are not in our true Home. 

Shouda tranist camp on the Island of Chios.

Look at these encouraging words that Jesus gives us in John 14:1-3 about our true Home:

"Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in me. My Father's house has many rooms;if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am." (NIV)

Do not let your hearts be troubled.  I am not going to lie to you my heart is troubled. Seeing all those refugees, scared, no place to go, not being able to communicate, little kids...wet, cold.  This troubles my heart.  Hearing of a little girl who was raped and doctors not willing to take care of her. This troubles my heart. So many of our Liberian staff who have lost family members, what seems like everyday.  This troubles my heart. Watching the fear and hate in people as they treat each other not as they would want to be treated. This troubles my heart. The Ebola survivor who doesn't have a job or family and no home because no one wants them living near them.  This troubles my heart. And then Jesus speaks.

Believe in Father's house has many rooms...I am coming back...that you may be where I am. I can't wait!  In fact sometimes I wonder what He is waiting for, Lord please come back!  But that is not for me to worry about or even be angry about.  I must focus on Home, our Home with our Father, the way an athlete strives for the finish line. I also realize that the things of the earth are just that, things of this earth.  So don't get to tied to them!  I was, and it wasn't until I was told that I had to leave it all behind that I realized how tight I had been hanging on to our home, work and stuff. The truth is everything I have is God's-this is not my home.

In my Father's house is many rooms-what am I doing to help fill those rooms?  If we are all refugees here on this earth with only two final destinations-my focus should be on telling people about a home with no suffering, pain, tears, sickness or wars.  A home you never, ever have to leave...because you don't want to or need to!  This Christmas I pray that we remember that this world is not our home, there is something so better.  And that we want to tell people, everyone no matter where they are from- about a God who loves them, a Savoir who died for them, and forever Home with room for them.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Redeeming miracles-comparing...

This past month of June and this month of July, I find myself full of mixed emotions.  From disbelief to relief, from regret to thankfulness and from deep sadness to joy. The constant thought "last year at this time..."  keeps rolling through my head-like remembering a bad movie. 

Let's just for fun do a little comparison- June 2014 to June 2015.

June 2014:
  • New cases surface on June 11/12th to ELWA 1 
  • By the end of June we have nurses and doctors coming to help at ELWA 1 and to go to the Foya ETU to assist MSF.
  • We stand up our second DART (Disaster Assisted Response Team) within the past 3 months. 
  • Containers of supplies are arriving, unloaded and sent to ELWA 1 and Foya.
  • The outbreak was spreading quickly. 
 ELWA 2 July 2014
June 2015:
  • Leave Boone/Canada with the BOYS to come back to Liberia.
  • The ELWA campus by June 20th is teeming with SP families, along with MAF (Mission Aviation Fellowship)  and SIM folks.
 Boys' first swim
  • ELWA 2 ETU is being decommissioned.
  • Last week of June-Liberia sees it's first Ebola case in over aprox. 100 days. 
ELWA 2 when we first got back June 16th
 ELWA 2 July 12-looking more like the kitchen/laundry of the new hospital.
These events only have one thing in common, Ebola is still here.  However, the systems and capacity to handle Ebola has drastically changed.  For the better!  Numerous organizations, the CDC and WHO along with the Ministry of Health have done a decent job in containing this recent outbreak that we pray will end soon.  Last year only the CDC had a handful of people here, WHO wasn't helping at all and MSF and SP were the only responders. This change has been one BIG miracle that we are very thankful for.

The events of last July are too many to list, to painful to type and it would take too many blog entries to recapture them all.  However, I will attempt to write on a few poignant milestones and events in upcoming entries. Comparing 2014 with 2015 has reminded me once again that God is constant.  He is the same last year as He is this year and was and is and will be forever.  It's us who change.  Trust me we all have changed. 

I wish I could say that like the systems we have in place now -that I have improved.  In same areas maybe I have, but I have also realized more than ever how small I am, how limited my abilities are and how fragile my faith is. God is so good my people. Even with that list-He allows us to be part of His great plan.  It's not a plan I know, it's not a plan that is going to be all nice and safe-it's a plan of faith.  Do I have the faith to keep trusting Him in my limited, imperfect self to keep on keeping on? Regardless of the past or the future?

 Running for this guy and many more

I think I have found a way to start figuring that out.  A marathon.  Yes, you read that right. Train for a marathon. I haven't been running consistently since last June.  It has been too hard-when I run, I think, I process, I cry out to God and this past year there was just too much.  But it's time.  Lord willing the Liberia Marathon will take place on Nov. 8.  In memory of those who lost their lives and in honor those who survived.  How can I not run it.  But it's going to be a very hard, painful road back. It's going to take a miracle.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Redeeming miracles part II...

 21 and 42. These numbers have a whole new meaning for many of us due to the events of the past year.  The first, 21 days, is the maximum amount of time the Ebola virus can stay alive in someones body.  The second, 42 days is of course 21 days doubled and the numbers of days a country must have no confirmed cases to be declared Ebola free. Today is that day in Liberia.  It really is a miracle and something that I don't think has really sunk in yet.

Since last late March, I have experienced four 21 day periods.  The first being evacuated in April and waiting until there were no cases in Liberia for 21 days before returning back home.  The second 21 days after we evacuated in August-and that 3 weeks was probably the most intense as it came after the most exposure working in the ETU.  The third 21 days came when I returned in Nov. in an apartment at an undisclosed area where my family couldn't come see me for a while-alone with my thoughts a very lonely time.  And now this last one...I find it ironic that I am flying back on day 42.  I asked the CDC lady at the screening area if they would still be doing this for people coming from Liberia-she was not to sure. So I will have to take my temp twice a day and phone it in to health authorities again.  It's almost become second nature.

 Last week I visited ELWA 2 for the first time since July.
What it looked like last July, I am on the right with the sprayer.

Looking into an empty ETU...

I know that God will keep redeeming in all of us-revealing in His time the miracles that have happened because of this unprecedented outbreak. Every time I see our staff I thank God for the miracle that they never got sick.  Every time I visit Mary, see Rick, Kent and Nancy and other survivors we can thank God for the miracle of their life. Every time I think back and don't cry or feel shame and guilt I know that little miracles are happening in me.  In all of us. 

 Got to go to Foya one last time...

All of us will carry our scars-but that's ok.  Those scars help us remember those that were lost, to remember a time when our lives were changed, to remember a faithful God that for some reason had us where we were at that time to do His work.

My peeps!  

I pray that we don't have to go through waiting for another 42 days again.  But I do know that until Sierra Leon and Guinea celebrate their 42 days we are susceptible to a confirmed case crossing our border.  As long as there is a reservoir of bats in the region we are open to new infections.  But one thing I do know- we are better prepared, we are much more vigilant and I have seen people changing some of there behaviors to ensure that we do not repeat the past.  I pray these behavior changes continue. 

I know much more will be revealed when I am in the presence of the Father-and He shows me the "why" of this experience.  I know some of them he has revealed to me already-but I know there are more. In the meantime, I am grateful that Liberia has made it to 42 days.  I am reflective on the events that got us here. And I still mourn for all the pain, death and darkness that gripped a country we have come to love and call home. But for now I will board another flight, I have lost count of how many I have taken this year, and see my family as we prepare to make our way back to Liberia.  Together with our SP family again.  That, my people is one of the greatest miracles...but that's our God, a God of miracles. 

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Redeeming Miracles... Part I

July 11, 2014.  Our team got a call that there was a suspect case just behind our Foya base.  Of course I was concerned, we had heard of suspect cases all that week-and many were in the Ebola treatment unit we worked at. As we headed out with our team and safety equipment I wasn't too sure what to expect. We winded through the back little bike trail where it opened up to a small mud packed house. A young woman was lying on a bench.  She was too weak to get up. We all knew this was Ebola. 

Our team started to get dressed- our leader and friend from MSF, went through with them what they were to do.  One of my colleagues who had just arrived, was with me and we both stood watching feel helpless.  The team did their job with care-all the while carefully following safety protocols.  They were a great group.  Our patient had a name-Mary-her mom told us, and Mary was pregnant.  Ugh. My heart sank again-as I knew the chance of survival for pregnant women with Ebola was very, very slim...She managed to get up, she was hot and needed shade-no one was dressed yet so no one could come and help her.  She slowly crawled to the truck and laid under the back end for shade.  I had never witnessed something so desperately sad-I could barely watch.

The day we picked up Mary...
We got Mary to the clinic and got her admitted, in a room with IV and drew blood to confirm what all of us already knew.  As the days went on-whenever I was in the unit I would check on Mary. As a hygienist I couldn't administer direct care-but I could make sure she was comfortable, talk to her, check that she had water, clean her area, talk to her and most importantly pray for her. Some days when I went to go check she would be sleeping-but I wasn't sure if she was sleeping or had actually passed-my heart would start beating faster and I would yell out "Mary! Mary! it's me oh!"  She would rouse out of her weak sleep and respond- "That me-oh, I here!"  Her eyes half open with that Ebola sheen on them-and I would breath a sigh of relief.  Death would not have Mary today. 
After doffing out of my hot suit I would go and find Mary's mom.  This sweet lady who didn't know English-would come everyday and sit outside and wait for whatever reports there were on her daughter.  I would find someone to translate into the local dialect of Kgissi-and tell her that Mary is still here and to keep praying.  We all tried our best to be as honest as possible -knowing full well how hard it was for family to not see their loved ones and having to trust a stranger with whatever news they could share with them.  This carried on for the a week-I would go in see Mary-come out find her mom, sit with her and tell her to keep praying. Everyday as I made my way to Mary's room I would pray "Lord please let her be alive-I don't want to have to tell this loving mother that Ebola has stolen her daughter from us."  I would enter-call her name and wait for her response..."I here oh! That me here!"  Thank you Jesus for one more day.
Then I had to leave. I had flew down to Monrovia to help the team there-take a much needed day off and see my boys.  I left Mary in very capable hands, my friends Taya, Karen, Tim, Aisha and so many more-who I knew would care for her as much as they could.  I also made sure they knew who her mom was and to let her know everyday how Mary was doing.  
I would hear from the team that Mary was still alive and then I was hearing that she was improving!  She was now able to come out to the courtyard-she had lost her baby but she was still alive, it was a miracle.  Then we left Liberia-broken, exhausted, shell shocked of the events we had all witnessed. I had heard that Mary survived-and yes, I was so happy-but it was hard from me to imagine-the whole experience seemed so surreal....

April 21, 2015. Foya base. It was time to go see Mary. One of our great staff members who lives in the same area as Mary was taking me back to the house-where  just over 9 months earlier I had picked up a sick woman, near death. Mary was now deaf-due to Ebola-but she could read lips in her local dialect - I got to the house-her sister called for Mary.  My heart was pounding-but in a good way, not like the past. There she was.  I barely recognized her-but she recognized me. Her smile. Her eyes. She was a perfect miracle. I couldn't stop smiling-because she had Ebola and can't get it again, I could give her a hug!  We talked through interpretation and lip reading-I couldn't stop staring at her, she really is alive. 

Mary on the right reading her sisters lips...

 This woman right here-MIRACLE!

Her mom had been visiting people in a nearby community and wasn't there however, a few minutes later the kids ran up the trail-she was coming! I got up and started walking towards her on the trail-when she saw me the smile on her face instantly was branded on my heart.  Words will never be able to express the JOY that was running through me-a joy I was convinced Ebola had stolen from me.  I was so happy that she remembered me-talking quickly and laughing I asked in eagerness "what is she saying?!" Translating quickly, our staff member told me how she was happy to see me, that she remembered me telling her to keep praying for Mary. She also exclaimed, that I was looking a lot better-back in July I was very thin and exhausted, she was happy I looked bigger and healthier.  We all laughed together -it was one of the most beautiful reunions I have ever been apart of.
 Mary's mom, me and Mary...together-thank you Jesus...

We visited, laughed, talked, took pictures and reminisced about those dark days.  It was the best and cheapest therapy I have ever had! My SP collegue John who was with me the day that we picked up Mary belived that God would heal her.  He was so confident. I was not. John left and would ask about her-and when I heard that she had survived I was happy to admit I was wrong.  Thank you John for your prayers for Mary! The team that cared for Mary-all of you-I was just a small part for a week, so thankful for you.  You helped her as she got better, encouraged her, prayed for her-I wish you could all come back to Foya and see Mary. You deserve more than I to feel that joy, to experience these redeeming miracles for all those we lost. There is so much more that could be written about Mary-so much that I know the team that cared for her could add-I wish I would have been with you all when she was discharged.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

As I walked back to base after our great visit my heart was so full, I could physically feel it almost bursting with joy, gratitude, much! Is there still hurt, pain, guilt and many more emomtions and feelings that I carry with me from this Ebola hell?  Yes. I fight many of these demons everyday.  But God in His love and His timing is replacing those with "Mary's".  Evidence for my small human mind-that He is God and He orchestrates miracles to build my weak faith.  Only God can bring such beauty from ashes.