Friday, December 15, 2017

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!

Thanks to your many prayers and faithful support, in 2017...

22 children had a Christ-centered home and 
lots of love in one of our group homes!

Over 100 children received support and improved care 
in their homes, helping them to stay with their families!

Approximately 110 people received wheelchairs!

Nearly 500 people received medical care who 
would not have otherwise received it!

Countless people heard the Gospel and saw it in action!

May God receive all the glory, and may we touch more lives than every before in 2018! God bless each of you this holy season!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

To Fight Or Not To Fight

What do you do when you face pure suffering? That is a question I recently faced.

We have been working in the town of Magdalena Milpas Altas for several months now. Although it is a high population area with a decent infrastructure, there is so much poverty in the town and surrounding area. There is a high concentration of people with special needs, and very few resources for them. So, I wasn’t surprised by the message I received one evening.

The text came from my friend, Juan, who has been our contact in the area, and it was accompanied by pictures that would produce nausea and vomiting in most people. The first was a picture of an emaciated young man seated on a bed. His face reflected the pain and misery he was experiencing. But the following two photos showed severe pressure sores on his buttocks and back that were horribly infected. Juan was asking me if I could visit him when I came to town the next day.

I immediately replied and told him that this young man would die soon without medical help, so he wrote and told me that they would take him to the hospital. Knowing that they would take him to the national hospital, I quickly told hm that they would kill him there and that we would arrive as soon as possible the next day.

The next day was Burn the Devil Day in Guatemala, so traffic was horrible. A local town was shut down for festivities, causing horrible jams all around them. We had to take a very circuitous route that added an hour to our journey, but finally made it at almost 2:00 pm. And we arrived to find a young man suffering worse than anyone I have ever met.

Jose is 19 years old. Five months ago he was working for the power company when he accidentally grabbed a live wire. For ten seconds, current passed through his body until he fell five meters to the street below. We do not know if it was the fall that caused his chronic pain or the electricity cooking his spinal cord. What we do know is that even the smallest movement in his arms, legs, or back produces excruciating pain down his spine. And for the last five months he has been in Roosevelt, the national hospital in Guatemala City. And that is where he developed those bedsores.

We talked with his mom and asked her what the doctor said about his sores. They told her that they would heal up in a month or so. And the more I learned of Jose’s story and the care that he received, the angrier I got. I honestly believe that if the doctor would have been present at that point I would have broken his nose. (Sorry for that glimpse into my carnal side.)

I had Katie Harms with me (a nurse from Canada), her husband, Kevin, and Susan McLay. The three of them are all serving in our home as interns now, and they came along to provide assistance. 

We inserted a catheter to keep urine off his wounds. Then we started cleaning and debriding his sores. This is a long process of cutting away the dead tissue to expose the healthy tissue. Then we showed his mother how to pack the wound. And, throughout our work, Jose would regularly cry out in pain.

During this process, as I was leaning over his bed and working on his wounds, Kevin asked me if I thought he would be okay. I blinked back tears and simply shook my head.

Both Katie and I attempted to start an IV, but he was so dehydrated that we could not hit a vein. We gave him an injection of antibiotics to begin to treat his infection, but were later told later that he had been on that same antibiotic for five days with no affect. So, I took a swab of his wound for a culture and told them I would return when the result were back. Meanwhile, we told them to push oral fluids.

As we were ready to leave, another gringo arrived. He was the director of a Christian ministry that was trying to help the family. He explained that he had found a doctor who would operate on the sores and treat him. The cost would be $10,000 USD, but he thought he could raise the funds.

I spoke with him at length about the situation. I explained that the bedsores were a symptom of the real issue, the damage to his spine. I said they could do the surgery, but most of his suffering would remain. Both he and his mom had recently prayed to receive Jesus into their lives, so I asked him to prayerfully seek the Lord to discern whether they should use those resources to prolong the life of a young man who was suffering so profoundly, or whether we should let him go be healed with Jesus.

He told me that he would consider my words and pray about it. When I spoke to him the next morning, he said that they felt the Lord was telling them to proceed with the surgery. (I am not saying that decision was wrong. I honestly don’t know. I can only trust and pray that it was correct.)

But that day Jose began vomiting and suffering from severe diarrhea. He was septic, so the other ministry leader transported him to a private hospital where they began treatment and quickly did surgery on his sores. He is currently hospitalized and recovering.

This entire situation has left me asking some hard questions about myself. And, at the top of that list, is this question:

Have I become so used to death that I surrender to it too easily?

As I worked on Jose’s wounds that afternoon, I decided that we would continue to visit and treat his sores and infections and make him comfortable. But I also decided that we would not take any heroic measures to save his life. Knowing that he had a relationship with Jesus, I believed that it was best to let him go. And I prayed he would go soon. But I committed myself to walking with them until the end, loving them all the way.

Then arrived a man with passion in his eyes, ready to fight for his life. Ready to raise $10,000 to get the surgery. Not at all ready to surrender to death. And I wondered if I was wrong.

I honestly don’t know. I don’t know if Jose will ever be free of his excruciating pain in this life. I don’t know if he will live to see Christmas or if he has a long life ahead. I know so little. 

In fact, after almost seven years of living in Guatemala and doing this ministry, I am sure of one thing. I know less now than I did seven years ago. At least it seems that way. I have learned so much. But with each truth I learn, I become aware of two or three things I have yet to learn. 

I have seen so much suffering and death. It has become a way of life. And it still brings tears to my eyes. But maybe it has become too familiar. I know that I don’t fight against death as hard as I once did, because death doesn’t seem so scary.

Back in the States, death appeared to be such a huge step…a massive transition to a place far away. But not anymore. I have had the privilege of being with so many as they have taken their last breath. And I have come to see it as a simple step through a doorway. My children and friends who have gone on to be with Jesus no longer seem so far away. They are just on the other side of a doorway. And, some days, I can press my ear to the door and hear their laughter on the other side.

I believe life is precious and valuable, and that goes for everyone from the unborn to the senior citizen. It is not that I now value this life less, it’s just that I value the life to come more. And I want everyone to experience it one day.

I recently shared on Facebook my vision of heaven. I don’t know if it is correct or not, but I like to think it is. The Bible tells us that the last will be first and the first will be last in the Kingdom to come, and I know that is referring to being humble and a servant to others. But I would like to think it applies to other areas as well.

I envision one day arriving in heaven and, after seeing my Jesus, being surrounded by all the ones to whom we ministered here. Adults and children who were twisted, suffering and bound to wheelchairs, braces and crutches here will be unfettered there. And we will have a big race. We will line up on the starting line, and Jesus Himself will start the race. 

“Ready! Set! Go!!!!!!”

And we will run and run in a place where no one gets tired or weak. And when we cross the finish line, we will all collapse together in a pile of laughter. And why are we laughing? Because I came in last!

I cannot imagine a better day than that. So, I long for heaven. I long for an end to the suffering that I see here. And, when I see suffering such as Jose is experiencing, I long for eternal healing.

And that is the balance I must find. Somehow, I have to fight for precious life here while understanding the life that awaits is far better. I have to know when to fight, and when to stop. Please pray that our team and I can find that balance and fight well until it is time to stop. And pray that we do it for the glory of the Author of both this life and the life to come.

Blessings from Guate!

Daryl, Wanda and the Crew

Monday, December 4, 2017

Voices, Words and Transparency

Some people have told me that I am too transparent in my blogs. But, in my opinion, a lack of transparency is the same as hypocrisy. I am a human with far too many weaknesses to conceal, so why would I try?

So, prepare yourself for some transparency.
Far too often I do not like myself. I could give you a long list of reasons why that is true, but at the core of all of them are some words spoken to me when I was around ten years old. My dad, in a moment of anger and frustration, uttered six words that have impacted me far more than any ever spoken…

“You will never amount to anything.”

My dad was not a bad man. I know that he loved me. I know that, in light of the disfunction of his childhood, he was a remarkable father. I have forgiven him for those words and many others that cut me deeply. But that does not mean that I have escaped their impact. I can still hear them spoken and see the expression on his face and his pointing finger. And, all too often, I believe him.

As I came to Christ in my teen years, the voice lessened. And, as I have grown in my relationship with Jesus, there are times when it is nothing more than a very distant whisper that gets drowned out by my heavenly Father’s voice. But there are other times that it shouts loudly.

I have spent much of my life trying to find approval, believing that the voice would be silenced forever if I could make people proud of me. Even worse, I have wasted much too much of my relationship with Jesus trying to earn His approval and make Him proud. My dad died in August of 1996, and I knew that I would never hear the healing words I had prayed for, so the voice got much louder for a while. But then it got quieter again.

Now, fast forward to 2017. Most days the voice is quiet and I am at peace with who I am. I know God’s love and the love of my wife and children. I am walking in God’s calling, and I can feel His smile. Most days.

But occasionally, that is not true. Occasionally I feel the pointing finger and hear those words again. And they are devastating. This mainly happens with things go wrong in the ministry. Like last week…

We have been facing a growing crisis within the ministry, but I have been brushing it off. But last week I was confronted with the magnitude of it, up close and personal. And, for the first time in a long time… my faith shrunk, my fear swelled, my self-loathing surged, and that old voice shouted.

“See! You are a failure! Everything you do will eventually fail! You will never amount to anything!”

I could see the expression. I could see the pointing finger. And I could hear the words as clearly as ever. Only this time, it was not my dad saying them in my mind…it was God.

I know, I know. God was not really saying them. It was the enemy using this very hard moment and my very great weakness to attack. But it was devastating and left me in a useless daze. I prayed. I cried out to God. But I felt unheard and alone.

On Wednesday morning I packed up the truck and headed up to Canillá, Quiché for two days of ministry with Jeremiah, Kevin and Katie. I believed it would do me good to get away and minister, as that always puts things in perspective. The trip up was uneventful, and we had a good afternoon as we served. But I will confess that I wasn’t all there. My mind was immeshed in the battle with the voice, and I was very mechanical in the ministry I did.

Then that night I had a horrible night. I slept poorly, and in the midst of it, I had a dream. A really bad dream. Often when I face The Voice, these kinds of dreams come. They are of the emasculating variety that cause me to awaken in a cloud of inferiority. And this one did exactly that.

The other ministry with which we work in Canillá, Las Maripositas, has group devotionals each morning, and I normally take part when I am there. But this morning I knew I needed to do something different. So I retreated to my pick-up with tinted windows to pour out my heart to God. And pour out my heart is exactly what I did. Out loud and with many tears, I begged Him to come and heal my heart. I knew that, without His touch, I would not be able to minister at all. But He answered, and we ministered.

That morning we had two divine appointments in which God moved…

The first was with a woman named Ana. The day before, when I was loading up extra wheelchairs to take with me, I accidentally had loaded up a chair with specialty footrests. When we arrived Wednesday and unwrapped the chair, I realized my mistake. But I told the rest of the crew that, whenever something like that happens, someone always shows up who needs it. So, when Thursday morning came and we were told that the last person was arriving in need of the chair, I wondered if she would be the one who needed it. And, of course, she was.

Ana’s family had brought her a long distance from a remote village in hopes of getting her a wheelchair. She has severed arthritis and cannot walk or straighten her legs. She is in constant pain, and even cried out when I lifted her from the pick-up in which she arrived. My heart broke when the full magnitude of her suffering came to light.

But it was beautiful when I placed her in the chair and made a few adjustments. When I was done, I knelt down and asked her how it felt. And, for the first time, I saw her smile. She was so relaxed and comfortable, and her whole body showed it. She told me that if felt “So very good!” And I gave thanks to God who saw her need when I was in our bodega, loading the “wrong” chair.

As soon as they had left, we loaded up the truck and headed out to another remote community. The roads were rough and steep, and I discovered along the way that my 4-wheel drive low has stopped working. But with 4-wheel drive high and some momentum, we were able to get through.

We were visiting a lady named Isidria, whom I had measured for a wheelchair on my last visit. She had suffered a stroke years before, and we found her in a horrible wheelchair. Her husband had found an old folding wheelchair and placed her in it. But, because her head and body tilted to the left, her spouse had tied a blanket around the right handle and placed it around her head to keep her upright. She has spent each day in that chair  in that position for years.

We brought a custom chair for her with head rest and tilt, and we were able to quickly adjust it and get her seated comfortably. The headrest was a difficult adjustment, because her head and neck were so twisted. I made the adjustment, put her on a tilt, and watched over the next few minutes as her neck relaxed and moved into a more normal position. So, I moved it further over and back, and watched it happen again. So, still another adjustment. On my next visit, I will move her headrest back and over further. I hope that she will eventually relax to the point of normal posture.

Isdria cannot speak at all. But I leaned down close to her and asked her how her chair felt. And, for the first time ever, I saw her smile. And a single tear flowed down her right cheek.

It had been a rough week in which I felt pounded, both emotionally and spiritually. It had been a horrible night, with little sleep and a troubling dream. And it had been a long drive over rough roads to get to her. But, at that moment,  I knew that I would do it over and over again to see a smile like that.

So, as we drove home that evening, my spirit was brighter and I felt better equipped to face the challenge that awaited me. And I was praising God for those experiences to quiet the voices.

But then He spoke and asked me some questions:
“What if I had not blessed and guided your morning? What if the wheelchairs were not what they needed? What if the morning had been filled with frustration and disappointment? What then? Why do you allow what you do to influence your identity so much, while who I am and what I say influences you so little?”
Ouch! Good questions. And convicting questions.

Why do I allow hard times and failures to tell me who I am instead of allowing Jesus to tell me? Why am I so influenced by what I can and cannot do instead of Whose I am? Why can’t I love myself simply because God does? There are some days that I do. But there are far too many that I don’t.

When will I learn that I don’t have to make God love me, because He already does? All I have to do is to learn how to fully love Him back. When will I learn to trust His words more than my earthly fathers’s. I want to, but I have so far to go.

But I have learned something important. I am not alone. In fact, there are far more people in the church who struggle with this issue than those who don’t. Likely, you are a member of this broken community. The words might be different than the words I hear, but they are just as damaging, painful and destructive. Some days they are quiet and distant, others they blare loudly in your mind. And, while your mind tells you that your are loved and valued by God, those words echo in your heart.

I just want you to know that you are not alone.

I have no pat answers to offer here. But if you have a magic cure, let me know. All I can do is to invite you to join me in learning to believe the truth of God instead of those heart-breaking and life-breaking words you have heard from others:

 “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:16-19

For this moment, I choose to rest in that love. I pray you will as well.

Blessings from Guatemala!

Daryl, Wanda and the Crew