Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Walk Humbly

I am a problem-solver and fixer. I have been since I was a child. My mother would often find me in the midst of taking apart some appliance or another in efforts to repair them (even when they weren’t broken). My dad assumed that I would follow in his shoes and become an engineer, but I chose a different path. I chose ministry. And while my days look very different from my father’s days, I have come to understand that my misguided goals were similar. To fix things…specifically lives.

So, when I came to Guatemala I had visions of fixing things. You can call it what you want, including the following clichés:

  • Have an impact
  • Make a difference
  • Save lives
  • Change hearts
  • Yada, yada, yada

But after over 2 1/2 years in this country of incredible need I have come to the following conclusion…I can do none of the above (with the possible exception of the yada, yada, yada). Further, I have come to realize that the pursuit of these things will lead me only to discouragement and burnout and cause me to fail at the only thing that I can do. (More about that later.)

Let me tell you about last week, and maybe you will understand a little better. Quite frankly it was a week in which everything for which we have been working seemed to fall apart.

IMG_1304I will begin with a young man named Diego. He is 12 years old and we found him in San Pablo La Laguna about six weeks ago. His mother begged for our help because he had unexplained bruises all over his body. When I asked her some diagnostic questions I found out that his energy level was very low, and when he gets cut or scraped it takes a long time for him to stop bleeding. I was immediately concerned, so we made arrangements for him to see a doctor and get blood work done. When we returned at the beginning of July, we found that his test results showed some serious concerns and the doctor had referred him to the national hospital in Guatemala City. They wanted him to see an oncologist because they believe he has leukemia. So, we paid for their transportation via chicken bus to the city and arranged for our Tzutujil translator, Michel, to accompany them.

Last week Michel took them to the city. We received a call from him the next day telling us that when Diego was examined they decided to admit him to the hospital immediately. Michel left for a moment to take care of paperwork and returned to discover that Diego and his father had gotten scared and had run away. He spent most of that day looking for them and finally gave up and returned to San Pablo late that evening. We are still trying to track Diego and his father down.

IMG_1684That same day we heard from the mother of Alex, one of our sponsored children in Santa Catarina. She told me that he had stopped walking and was sick with a fever. I headed up to their house and examined Alex and realized that he was not walking because he was in pain. He also had swollen glands and difficulty swallowing. We arranged for him to see the doctor who works with our ministry and he immediately ordered blood, urine and feces tests. He also ordered pelvis and knee X-rays. As suspected, the results showed a urinary tract infection. What was unexpected was what the X-rays showed. Both hip sockets are broken. No wonder the little guy doesn’t want to walk.

We will be taking Alex to a specialist this week and I expect that he will want to do surgery. The recovery from this will be long and difficult for both Alex and his family.

IMG_1720On the same day that we received Alex’s test results, we also received a call from Jorge’s mom. He lives in Nueva Concepción and is 15 years old. You may remember that he has suffered from pressure sores on both his buttocks and right heel. Last year he had to have a Syames amputation of his heel because the pressure sore had penetrated to the bone and destroyed it. His mother called and told me that he had another pressure sore on the same foot.

On receiving this news, I wanted to just scream. I had explained to this family onIMG_1717 numerous occasions that it was very important for them to watch both his feet and his buttocks for beginnings of sores. But when I visited him yesterday I found that he had sores and deterioration that had to have been in the works at least two months. Yet they had done nothing to prevent their worsening or treat them. I checked his buttocks and found that this sore had worsened considerably as well. And when I confronted Jorge about why he had not alerted his family regarding the sores he actually smiled and told me, “I don’t care.” (This was followed by a firm scolding on my part in which I explained that he was no longer a child, but a young man. I also told him that if he continued not to care he would likely lose more of his foot, or even his life.)

breakdownIn the midst of all this, we have had a wonderful family staying with us and working with our ministry. Jason and Lori Yelton are here with two of their children, Dillon and Jessica. On Friday we were heading out of town and I was telling them about all of these set-back we have been facing. I made the mistake of saying, “When it rains, it pours!” About five seconds after I uttered those words, my 4-Runner made an odd sound and I lost my 4-wheel drive. So, my much-abused vehicle is once again in the hands of our mechanic.

Sometimes I can be pretty thick and miss the lessons that are right in front of me. But over the weekend it finally began to dawn on me that God is trying to teach me something through all of this. It took me another day before I finally figured out WHAT He was trying to teach me.

What was the great lesson? Answer: I CAN’T FIX ANYTHING.

As I look back over the last nine days of my life, my powerlessness is very evident. I cannot control any of these situations:

  • I cannot prevent Diego and his father from running away. And if we find them and take them back to the hospital I cannot prevent them from running again. And I certainly can’t take away Diego’s leukemia.
  • I cannot heal Alex’s pelvis or prevent his coming surgery. And I cannot assure that the surgery will be a success.
  • I cannot make Jorge care enough about his health to monitor his bedsores. I cannot make his family do a better job of watching for problems. These are their choices, and I cannot control them.
  • I cannot keep my 4-Runner from breaking down. I can’t even have a say in when or where the breakdowns occur.
  • In my last blog I wrote about the inner turmoil I often feel when asking, “Which ones can we save/should we save?” But the reality is that we cannot save any of them. We can intervene with medical care, but that does not mean that they will live. Likewise, we can choose not to intervene, but God may spare and heal. I have often thought I was playing God when deciding who to save, but I really play God when I am arrogant enough to think I can save anyone.

So, in light of my complete powerlessness to save and fix, why am I here? God is slowly penetrating my thickness to reveal that simple answer. I am here to “act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with my God." (Micah 6:8)

I cannot control or change any of these situations, but fortunately that is not my role. That is God’s job. My task is to love God and love others recklessly with the humble awareness of my powerlessness next to God’s great power.

I don’t need to get hung up on or burdened down by the needs that surround me. When I do, I will be ineffective at loving both God and man. I will lose the joy of the Lord, which is my strength, and that is what each of these families need to see and experience more than anything else.

My life and this ministry is not about fixing anything or anyone. It is about leading people to the One who can either fix things for them, or walk with them through their brokenness. That is the greatest need of the families with which we work. It is also my greatest need, to humbly walk with Him in my own brokenness and to know that it enough.

Blessings from a former fixer!


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Life and Death Decisions

I love this ministry. It is the most challenging and demanding work that I have ever done, but I would not trade what I do now for anything that this world has to offer. If you could list every job in the world and offer me my pick I would still choose this life and this ministry.

Having said that, there are still days when I want to quit. I know…that sounds like a contradiction, doesn’t it? Maybe it is. But there are times when I feel like the decisions that are necessary to run a ministry like this are just too far above my head. Someone else could do it better. Someone else has more wisdom. Someone else should be the Director, and I should just go do the grunt work.

Never have I felt more over my head than when we face the life and death decisions of this ministry. And we are facing once such decision this week.

IMG_1558Little Emily is eighteen months old and has hydrocephalus. This condition results from excess cerebral fluid surrounding her brain which creates tremendous pressure, damaging her brain and causing her head to grow to an abnormally large size. Normally when a child is born with hydrocephalus they would have immediate surgery to install a cerebral shunt that would drain off excess fluid from the child’s cranium to their abdomen. In the US this would have been done regardless of the family’s economic situation, but here things are different. Emily’s mom is very poor and cannot afford a doctor or the surgery. So the pressure on her little brain continues to increase. Already she has experienced permanent brain damage that has greatly limited her development.

We entered her life a few weeks ago when we were down in Sipicate. We were contacted by the local health department and told that she and her mom needed emergency transportation from Sipicate to the free clinic in La Gomera (because they could not afford to pay for an ambulance). We had just wrapped up our work for the day, so we readily agreed to give them a ride.

As we traveled my heart broke for both this mother and her child. The mother was desperate to help her child and Emily was clearly suffering. When we arrived in La Gomera the doctor took one look at her and took her straight back to a room in front of the dozens who were awaiting treatment. In addition to the pressure on her brain she was also diagnosed as having an impacted bowel. The clinic arranged to transport her to the national hospital, and we left to head home.

Last week we received a call from her mother in which she told us that the national hospital examined Emily and then sent her away without treatment. She wanted to know if we could help. We contacted the health center in Sipicate and they arranged to send her to the national hospital in Guatemala City. That hospital is better than most other national hospitals, and I know the neurosurgeon that works there. He is an excellent doctor and surgeon. However, they will still need to pay for the surgery. And therein lies the rub.

What should we do? From past experiences I know that I could request money on this blog and the many wonderful readers such as you would respond. You have done it many times before, and I am confident that you would again. I have no doubt that within 24 hours we could raise the $3500 we would need, and she could have the surgery. But should I do that?

Every day we face a long line of medical needs, and often those needs are life and death in nature. As a small ministry with limited resources, we have to ask not only “Can we help?” but also “Should we help?” In other words, is this the best way to use our limited resources?

In Emily’s situation, she is already severely brain damaged. By paying for this surgery, we can extend her life indefinitely, but we cannot reverse the damage or significantly improve her quality of life. She is suffering. So, should we make her comfortable and allow Jesus to bring her perfect healing sooner rather than later? Or should we intervene with the surgery?

This is not a sanctity of life issue. Of course Emily’s life is sacred and valuable, and I would never say that it is not. Every life is valuable and precious from the womb to the tomb. But we are dealing with hard facts here which include the following:

  • In Guatemala if you cannot afford the treatment you do not receive it, regardless of how critical that treatment might be.
  • People die everyday due to their inability to pay for necessary treatment.
  • With our limited resources we are, at times, forced to choose who we will allow to die and who we will save.
  • A part of that decision-making process has to include the long-term quality of life for the person we save.
  • No, I am not qualified to make these decisions.
  • Yes, it does feel like we are playing God at times. (And I hate it.)

For those of you who would like to write and set me straight, I welcome the correction under the following condition: Offer me real solutions and not just clichés. If you think I am doing it wrong you are welcome to move here and run this ministry. I will do the grunt work and you can make these hard decisions. You probably will do a better job and I can be free of the emotional and spiritual turmoil.

I will also say this…now is not a good time to complain to me about the US health care system.

I beg for your prayers. We are facing numerous life and death decisions in our ministry right now. We understand that we cannot save them all. For some our role is to simply stand with families and love them as Jesus does while they say goodbye and mourn. For others, we must intervene with medical care. But always we need the wisdom of God to determine which role we should pray in each situation.

Thanks for allowing me to pour out my heart. Now, back to work…

Blessings from Guatemala!

Daryl, Wanda and the Crew