“So, what did you do today, dear?” The question is not meant to be loaded, but most days I struggle to answer it. Between running errands and shuttling children, cooking, cleaning, and carrying on, what do I actually do that might have any comic value, insight, or interest to a man who is about to fall asleep on the sofa? I recently asked Danny Smelser, the chief physician/missionary at Tanzania Christian Clinic, a variation of this question. “What does a typical day look like for you at the clinic?” I asked. His answer was an honest, “No day is typical!”


But if he had to pin it down to broad generalities, it would look something like this. A weekday begins around 6:30 AM when Danny and his wife, Nancy, open the clinic for cleaning. An important part of every day is pumping water to the holding tank for use in the clinic. Because patients are seen in the order in which they arrive at the clinic, one of the staff begins handing out numbers around 8 AM. Danny and Nancy hold a short devotional around 8:30 before they meet with their first patient. Lunch is taken from 1:30 to 2 and closing time is roughly 4:30 PM depending on when the last patient is seen and treated. Afternoons may also include home visits to see patients who aren’t mobile and runs to the nearest hospital. Danny commented that his evenings are short as there is really nothing to do after the clinic closes. Saturdays are reserved for the week’s shopping of groceries and medicines in the closest town, Arusha, a 45 minute drive away. Sundays are spent at the little church next to the clinic or in Bible studies in the homes of the locals.


During our conversation, Danny also spoke about a wide range of topics such as his thankfulness for an x-ray machine that was recently donated to the clinic. Now, he is actively seeking a trained technician to run the machine. He spoke about the challenges of finding medicines such as Pepto Bismal, which is often used to treat a myriad of gastrointestinal complaints at the clinic, but which is not available locally. He commented that things like gloves, casting materials, elastic bandages and dressings run out quickly… things we would never expect our doctors to go without.


The complaints that Danny treats most often at the clinic are febrile in nature, such as malaria and typhoid. Gastro and parasitic diseases are the next most common complaints followed by pulmonary illnesses such as pneumonia and bronchitis. Over course, HIV/AIDS is ever-present, affecting nearly 10% of the area population. Hypertension, diabetes, and asthma are on the rise, according to Danny. Danny commented that about 1 in 5 children qualify for protein supplements at the clinic, which indicates a low caloric/low protein diet, but rarely do they see a life-threatening case of malnutrition.


The clinic treated approximately 5,700 patients in 2012 at roughly a cost of $5.50 per patient (a cost which includes labs, pharmaceuticals, and seeing the doctor!). The donations the clinic receives help to keep these costs low; however, even that low of a cost is still difficult for Tanzanian patients to pay. The clinic staffs the Smelsers as well as David, the clinical officer, two nurses, one lab technician, and 15 Tanzanians as grounds and security staff.


“We lay our a-typical days on God’s care,” stated Danny as he wrapped up our conversation. “And we thank you for your support of the clinic and the work we do there!” Thank you, Compassion Tea friends, for your support!

 For more information, visit


Sanctity of Life

It has been roughly 11 years since I saw my first ultrasound, saw the little bean of a baby and watched the fluttering butterfly of a heart inside. And while it hurts a lot less these days, I still remember walking into the doctor’s office in great anticipation of seeing that little heart bigger and stronger and instead hearing that it had stopped. That was the first day my world stopped. Stood still. Wound around itself in a web of despair and darkness. If I had carried full term all of the children God placed in my womb, I’d have 6 children. God, in His amazing wisdom, gave me 2 bright and beautiful children to love here on Earth and a passel of kiddos waiting for me in Heaven. What a grand reunion it will be one day when I meet them all and when Joseph meets his twin.

I mention this because this week is the 40th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade and therefore is simultaneously the week of Sanctity of Life Sunday across our nation and the March for Life in Washington D.C. Because of my past, that phrase, “sanctity of life,” has special meaning for me. If a heart starts beating around 12 weeks of life and its cessation means there is no life, then how can an unborn child not be protected as a living being?

When I was a sophomore in high school, I joined the speech and debate team. As an original orator, I wrote a speech and week after week delivered it to an ever-tiring group of other high-schoolers who could recite each other’s speeches by the end of the season. My topic? Abortion vs. adoption. Why? Because I was adopted. And somewhere along the way, it dawned on me that my life could very well have been ended shortly after it began, before it ever really got going. That is kind of a daunting thing to face! Instead, I have spent my life singing silently the praises of the woman who had the courage to give me life in so many respects… living, breathing life and life in a family with loving, doting parents who could provide a steady, stable environment for me and boundless opportunities.

Recognizing the sanctity of life is equally important after birth. This past Christmas, Dawn Faith Leppan, who runs the 1000 Hills Community Helpers clinic and feeding center and school outside of Durban, South Africa, posted a picture of a beautiful little three week old baby who had been abandoned that day.

Christmas Baby at 1000 Hills

Christmas Baby at 1000 Hills

His mother left him with a friend, wrapped in dirty linens. The friend brought the baby to Dawn who through the help of donations to her clinic was able to provide for the little one. The story is not uncommon in Africa. Between the ravages of HIV/AIDS, war, famine, and abject poverty, it is estimated there are over 40 million abandoned children in Africa. Some live with their grandmothers while others are sent to orphanages or government child welfare organizations. Still others are left to fend for themselves on the streets of the larger cities or in villages too poor to help each other.

You may recall the story of Yohanna, (link) who lived with his grandmother. She was too poor to own a goat, too poor to provide food on a regular basis. When Ed and Wendy Bjurstrom met Yohanna, he was suffering from malaria and malnutrition and was being treated at the Tanzania Christian Clinic. Or you may recall the story of Patrick (link) who was rescued from an orphanage by the Mission Medic Air team in Zambia and who was sent to a Christian school. He had been abandoned by his mother. During a visit to 1000 Hills outside Durban, South Africa, Lee Kennedy watched the children play outside. Amidst the screams of joy, a little boy wandered off on his own, disoriented and unwell. Lee asked a nearby nurse what was happening. She explained that the boy was probably in the last stages of HIV and probably wouldn’t make it. This is the fragile balance that has gone grossly askew in Africa.

The stories of the children are the most heart-wrenching. Why is that? Is it because kids are just so cute? Is it because they are so little and helpless and innocent? Is it because their lives have just begun, lives that could hold so much promise if given the right opportunities? Yes. Yes. And yes. They remind us of the sanctity of life, of all life. The children pull on our hearts because we don’t want to see innocence ruined by harsh reality, because we feel so protective of the powerless and the helpless, because we see in children the hope for a brighter tomorrow.

Lily of the Valley Medical Clinic, one of the clinics Compassion Tea and CompassioNow supports, operates in conjunction with an orphanage. Several of the directors of Compassion Tea support children at this orphanage. Opened in 1994, the Children’s Village accepts children from government-run child welfare organizations. Most of these children have lost parents to HIV/AIDS and are quite ill themselves. At the village, they are housed in one of 23 3-bedroom homes. Each home has a house Mother and 6 children. The Mother cooks, cleans, helps with homework, and generally cares for the children the way a mother would. Through education, a community garden, computer classes, and day care for the small, Lily of the Valley seeks to improve life and provide opportunities these children would not otherwise be given. 

We can’t change this situation overnight. But we can do small things that will make big differences. Please join us in supporting the work of people like Dawn Leppan, Geoff and Nell at Mission Medic Air, Danny and Nancy at Tanzania Christian Clinic, and the Mothers at Lily of the Valley, the boots on the ground so to speak, those who are acutely aware of the sanctity and the fragility of life.

Talk About Weather

Talk About Weather.

Talk About Weather

I should be a Midwestern girl at heart, and I probably would still be if it weren’t for the weather. I grew up in eastern Indiana and moved to northeastern Ohio when I was heading into high school. I don’t recall ever feeling like the weather was oppressive, although, I do recall staring out across the cornfields at ominous dark clouds watching for a funnel, anticipating the storm’s power. Snow came and went, sometimes with fierceness and malice, sometimes gently and quietly. There were the years growing up when the blizzards hit and the snow draping down off the nearby church roof met with the drifted snow climbing the church wall and we had to cover the doors to the house with blankets to keep the snow and cold from drifting in. And, invariably, June and July would roll around and every single day we had swim lessons or the opportunity to board the bus for a nearby pool grey clouds would settle in and the wind would rise. The pool water was frigid and the air wasn’t much better. The next day, the sun would bake the land around us and send us panting to the shade of a large tree. But I moved in and through the weather, sometimes getting a late-sleep because of a fog delay or a free day off school because the roads had drifted shut with snow. I viewed these days like gifts from the weather gods. Weather was what happened around me and nothing more than that.

When we moved to Amsterdam, The Netherlands, I heard expats who had moved there from sunnier climates complaining about the weather. “Why doesn’t the sun ever shine here?” seemed to be their refrain. For me, the fast-moving clouds, the sporadic showers, the breaking sun through enormous puffy orange clouds was heavenly… so much better than the nebulous grey murk of home where horizons don’t exist, where sky and snow-covered landscape blend together in an endless greyness. And then, I moved to California where for several months each year there is no rain. At first, the incessant sun seemed to scorch my soul. I felt dry and thirsty… partly for rain and partly for companionship. I still embrace the first rain of the winter with open arms, but I quickly bid it good-bye. Hasta la vista, baby. Bring back the sun! I have become a sun-bunny and the dark, dreary rain storms that pass through don’t just happen around me, they happen in me too. Headaches, sadness, fears sit like a proverbial cloud over my head; it is a heavy cloud.

I’m talking about the weather here because one of my devotionals today describes depression in the way I would describe a winter’s day in northeastern Ohio – interminable darkness. Please read:

Coming Out of the Dark — 
Mary Southerland

I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD (Psalm 40:1-3, NIV).

Florida is famous for its sinkholes. I personally find them fascinating since I grew up in Texas where most holes are made intentionally. As I studied these overnight wonders, an interesting explanation emerged. Scientists assert that sinkholes occur when the underground resources gradually dry up, causing the surface soil to lose its underlying support. Everything simply caves in – forming an ugly pit.Depression and sinkholes have a lot in common. Depression seems to overwhelm with a vicious suddenness when it is actually the result of a malignant and constant process. Inner resources are slowly depleted until one day there is nothing left. The world caves in and darkness reigns.Depression is America’s number one health problem. Someone once called it “a dark tunnel without a ray of light” while some cartoonists often describe depression as a “little black cloud hovering overhead.” I have a friend who says, “Some days you’re the bnd
Florida is famous for its sinkholes. I personally find them fascinating since I grew up in Texas where most holes are made intentionally. As I studied these overnight wonders, an interesting explanation emerged. Scientists assert that sinkholes occur when the underground resources gradually dry up, causing the surface soil to lose its underlying support. Everything simply caves in – forming an ugly pit.
Depression and sinkholes have a lot in common. Depression seems to overwhelm with a vicious suddenness when it is actually the result of a malignant and constant process. Inner resources are slowly depleted until one day there is nothing left. The world caves in and darkness reigns.
Depression is America’s number one health problem. Someone once called it “a dark tunnel without a ray of light” while some cartoonists often describe depression as a “little black cloud hovering overhead.” I have a friend who says, “Some days you’re the bug. Some days you’re the windshield.” Many believe depression is simply a spiritual problem while others insist it is an emotional and physical disorder. I think they are all right. Studies indicate that over half of all women and one out of three men struggle with depression on a regular basis. Because no one is immune to the darkness, we must learn to face it honestly, with emotional integrity.
That moment came for me in the spring of 1995 when I realized that something was drastically wrong. I was empty and completely exhausted. It seemed as if I had been living in the fast and furious lane forever. Overwhelmed, I mentally listed the demands on my life:
• Serving as pastor’s wife in a large and fast-growing church
• Raising two young children
• Maintaining a hectic speaking schedule
• Directing the Women’s Ministry of our church
• Teaching a weekly and monthly Bible study
• Counseling women in crisis
• Playing the piano for three worship services
• Teaching twenty piano and voice students
No wonder I was struggling. I was just plain tired. Being a perfectionist, I had always been very strong, driven to excel with little sympathy for weak people. Now I, the strong one, couldn’t get out of bed. Getting dressed by the time my children returned from school meant it was a good day. The simplest decisions sent me into a panic and the thought of facing crowds was overwhelming. Many times, I walked to the front door of our church building but couldn’t go in. I felt guilty missing services but couldn’t handle the sympathetic looks and questioning stares as I stood, weeping uncontrollably. I was paralyzed, imprisoned in a bottomless pit where loneliness and despair reigned, wreaking emotional havoc from their throne of darkness. I had no idea how I had gotten there and what was even more frightening was the fact that I had no idea how to escape. I did the only thing I could do. I cried out to God.
“I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.” (Psalm 40:1-2, NIV)
With that single heart cry, my journey from darkness into light began. The first step was to recognize the factors that can trigger depression; a lack of replenishing relationships, various chemical imbalances, and a poor self-image, just to name a few. One of the most common and deadly factors is failure to deal with the past. The “mire” mentioned in Psalm 40:2 means “sediment at the bottom.” When our children were small, we frequented the beach. Wading out into the ocean, they took turns pushing a beach ball under the water and counting to see who could hold the ball down for the longest time. Eventually their arms would tire, or the ball would escape their control, popping to the surface. The “mire” in our lives is like that beach ball. The “sediment” or “junk” that we have never dealt with settles at the bottom of our souls, randomly popping up until we run out of energy to keep it submerged. Eventually, this mire works its way to the surface, spilling ugliness and darkness into every part of life.
“Mire” comes in all shapes and sizes — buried pain, unresolved anger, hidden sin or a devastating loss. I had never really dealt with my mother’s death or faced some very painful parts of my past. As I looked back over my life, a startling realization came — I had painted a picture in my heart and mind of how I wanted my childhood to be, not how it really was. I had spent my whole life running from the past by filling the present with frenzied activity. In the following weeks and months, the Lord and I sifted through the enormous pile of “mire” that had settled into my spirit and life. Together we faced experiences that I had carefully locked away until they slammed into my heart and mind with breathtaking force and fresh pain; an alcoholic father, the trusted family doctor who molested me, times of loneliness and rejection, haunting failures, unreasonable fears that were never spoken. It seemed as if the flood of polluted memories would never end!
But God is good — providing a defense mechanism for those experiences that are beyond our ability to face. He gently tucks them away until we are ready. When we bury pain alive, it keeps popping up at unexpected moments. Pain must be dealt with and buried … dead! Freedom from the pit of darkness demands a confrontation of our past, straining every experience through the truth that “all” things work together for our good. The will of God admits no defeat and penalizes no one. We can allow our past to defeat us or empower us. Harnessing the power of the past is a compelling weapon in the war against darkness.

I’m pretty sure I fall into the 50% of women who have experienced depression. It’s such an ugly, lonely, dark place. My heart has cried out over and over again, “Lord, please take this.” Do I successfully hand it over to Him? Or do I keep grabbing it back? What about the times I think I’m doing great and then something happens to me? Someone says something that hits a nerve, or resurrects the head of the multi-headed serpent of self-doubt and self-recrimination and self-loathing, or throttles me squarely into the middle of a battle I didn’t start and want nothing to do with. These are my beach balls I suppose, the mire-covered buoyant issues that eternally pop up and try as I might to drown them again and again and again I can’t. I would like very much for the beach balls, with their mire-covered relentlessness, to go away. I would like to wash my hands of them, watch them drift ever further out to sea, ultimately to sink from view. But wouldn’t you know, to carry the metaphor a bit further, here comes a dolphin balancing the balls on its nose, tossing them back at me. Here, catch! You’re not done yet. WHY NOT! WHY CAN’T I BE DONE?

Because my work here on earth isn’t done yet. Seriously, I’ve got babies to raise, people to shepherd, tea to sell and lives to change, a husband to love, and parents to help. I’ve got rainbows to see, new foods to taste, faces and people to delight in, and a lot of growing in Christ. God’s not finished with me yet; in fact, He’s not finished with this whole experiment He’s got going on, this thing called “life on earth.” Yesterday, I took a walk and as I walked I marveled at the blue sky peeking through the grey clouds with tinges of pink outlining it all. And I prayed, “Lord, I can’t wait to see Jesus come riding through those clouds with thousands of angels blowing their heavenly trumpets. Because when that happens I will know I’m going home and all the pain of this life is behind me, a flash in the pan, a momentary blip, the bitter pill swallowed and ultimate healing complete. No, God didn’t send His Son back to fetch us all, not yet, although He promises to do so.

In the meantime, we work and serve.

Recently, I had a conversation with someone who has been facing a number of health issues. The health issues are limiting, and after a lifetime of servitude, this person was beginning to feel sort of put out to pasture, like there wasn’t much left to do. Oh, but there is still so much to be done! One of the things that I keep learning over and over is that we all face hardships and problems. Tragedy, illness, death, financially difficult times, scary times… we are exempt from none of it. It is the definitive in the world… not if, but when. We have two choices when we reduce it down. Choice A is to turn inward and ask things like, “Why is this happening to me? What did I ever do to deserve this?” and crawl into the proverbial bed, pulling the covers over our heads, and shutting out the world. Choice B is to take the necessary time to grieve and adjust and then to say, “God, how are you going to use this? Show me the way for this to become your glory revealed. What role do you have planned for me? How can I serve still?”

We shouldn’t turn each other out to pasture. Our elders are wise and offer a contemplative view of the world. Our youth are full of vigor and passion, which can be harnessed into productive servitude. I think of Dawn Leppan at 1000 Hills clinic in South Africa, who, despite her own health problems, continues to serve roughly 1500 people a day through her feeding center, her nursery school, her jobs programs, and her medical clinic. I think of two of the founders of Compassion Tea who have traded an easy retirement for the rigors of running a tea business, while the other founders squeeze Compassion Tea into already filled days. I think of our members who understand that they are serving others by simply drinking a cup of tea. Or I think of Betty who called the CompassioNow office recently and said she was sending a check to CompassioNow for $9.00. For years, she and her husband Bari have kept an annual jar where they collect money that they find on the street or that falls on the floor. At the end of the year, they take whatever is in the jar and send it where the Lord directs. Recently, Betty read about how patients in Tanzania pay 60 cents for their healthcare costs, a cost that seems miniscule to us but which is actually prohibitive for Tanzanians. Betty said she felt the Lord directing her to “the jar.” She had $8.72 in the jar. She figured by rounding up to $9.00 she could help cover the patient portion costs for 15 patients at Tanzania Christian Clinic.

There is a service yet that you can provide. There are mentors needed, Bible studies to be led, communities to be built, lives to be saved, lives to be drawn out of the dark.

Until Next Year

Until Next Year.

Until Next Year

Ah, Christmas is over. We’ve cheered in the New Year. And now we take down the greenery, fold away the stockings, roll up the lights, wrap up the Nativity or the Menorah, and breath a deep sigh of relief. We made it through what may in fact be the most difficult time of the year instead of “the most wonderful time of the year.” I’m not talking about the Christmas rush, the hustle of shopping, the agony of late night wrapping sprees, the stress of following tradition to the letter. I’m talking about making it through Christmas dinner without someone spoiling the figgy pudding. Let’s face it, few of us live the Norman Rockwell version of holiday gatherings. In reality, more of us can relate to the Griswold family (National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation) or the McCallister family (Home Alone). Black sheep, skeletons, wacky family members, difficult personalities, battles never resolved or released, political or religious differences all threaten to rock the boat, dredge up real and perceived hurts, rip off the metaphorical band-aids so carefully applied, shake loose feuds years if not decades old. If we can get through the togetherness of the holidays without further scarring, we count it a blessing. There has to be a Keep Calm and Carry On mentality for the holidays.

I needed some new Christmas music this year. I was feeling a little bored. So, I downloaded Jason Gray’s new Christmas album, Christmas Stories… Repeat the Sounding Joy. Each song on the album corresponds to a character in the Biblical Christmas story. From the song “I Will Find a Way” which ponders God’s view of how to reach his people to the innkeeper’s song “Rest” which speaks loudly to our own need to put aside the busyness of life in order to see what is happening in front of our nose, the album is a collection of thought-provoking songs that retell the Christmas story in a way that is accessible to us today. The song for Joseph has haunted me, however. Titled “Forgiveness Is a Miracle,” the song contemplates Joseph’s reaction and role in the story. Was he bitter, raging over betrayal, or did he cry in disappointment? Was there pain and vengeance at first?

“When love is like an open wound there’s no way to stop the bleeding. Did you lose sleep over what to do? Between what’s just and what brings healing? Pain can be the road to find compassion when we don’t understand and bring a better end. It takes a miracle to show us… forgiveness is a miracle. And a miracle can change your world… The forgiveness that you gave would be given back to you because you carried in your heart what she was holding in her womb. Love was in a crowded barn. There you were beside her kneeling.… You held it in your arms as the miracle started breathing… and the miracle will save the world.
Blessed Joseph, your heart has proven  and through you the kingdom has come. For God delights in a man of mercy and has found an earthly father for his son.”

As a member and volunteer at Compassion Tea now for a year and a half, I’ve found myself asking what does compassion look like off the page. How does that play out in daily life? Is it random acts of kindness, paying it forward, smiling and exhibiting patience in difficult circumstances, not smelling like the world? Is it sending money, shoeboxes, animals, medical supplies to people in far away places? This song suggests that compassion is found in forgiveness. Sounds easy, delightfully so, right!
I find myself telling the kids all the time, “Say you’re sorry.” Whether it is a slight push, a rolling of the eyes, a perceived-to-be-malicious bump, they come screaming to me about how they’ve been wronged. Often times, when we dig through it together it is a miscommunication or misunderstanding. But bending your will and your pride to admit wrongdoing can be excruciating. When Clara was smaller, and she was asked to apologize to someone, she would dissolve into a puddle of tears. She couldn’t bring herself to apologize. She was so ashamed or frightened to admit wrongdoing that she would prefer to ignore it. Facing our own ugliness is not that appealing. And letting go and forgiving? Equally painful.

But “Pain can be the road to find compassion….” croons Gray. Looking deep into the pain can bring us a better understanding of motive, of the woundedness inside the perpetrator. Peeling off layers of onion makes me cry every time. Searching through the pain surrounding a situation can too. It’s the proverbial “walk a mile in a man’s moccasins” kind of thinking. “Put yourself in his shoes.” But how do we get out of our own tightly-tied tennies to try on someone else’s?

I can’t really offer an answer. I struggle with this daily. There are wounds deep and decades long that are dug deeper and longer with each passing day. To forgive for the past is difficult when the present sees the same injuries being perpetrated. Will it ever stop? Will he/she/the situation ever change?

How many times have I told my kids that the only thing they can change about situations is themselves? We can change our outlook, our attitude, our understanding. But we can’t change others, as much as we would like to. So, I suppose compassion looks like changing one’s attitude or understanding to listen and look deep into the pain of another even if that person has hurt us. But don’t stop and grovel. Climbing down into the mire with another gets you both stuck in the mud.

“Forgiveness is a miracle.…” Gray turns the phrase later in the song to “Forgiveness is the miracle.” The simplicity of a changed article! When God sent Jesus in the form of a baby boy on the night we now celebrate as Christmas, He knew in advance what the end outcome would be. He had announced it multiple times to His prophets, He had set the stage with decrees about atonements and sacrifices, He had repeatedly shown mercy and forgiveness to His people even though they consistently turned away from Him to worship the works of their own hands. And as soon as he began preaching, Jesus referenced it as well. His death was the necessary sacrifice to once and for all time wipe away the sins of the world. Through belief in his death and resurrection, the deadness of sin can be thrown off and the life of a forgiven person can be lived.

Yesterday, Joseph asked me what Christmas has to do with Easter. Everything! You can’t have the one without the other. And thank goodness. Because of His example of forgiveness and His promise of forgiveness, we can trust God to work in every situation and every heart. He, the great big creator of the universe and of little bitty me and you, is the only one who can bring about the change that leads to forgiveness and reconciliation. No, don’t climb down into the mire with another who has wronged you. Stop, look, listen, and then offer the hand of God’s grace. Be a man of mercy, prayerfully asking for your own forgiveness and for the reconciliation that only God can bring. He sent us His son, every single one of us; He can drag anyone out of the mire.

With an eye to the new year, I find myself wondering in and through what ways God is going to bring His forgiveness to the world this year and how He will use you and me. Compassion, mercy, forgiveness… what will that look like this time next year? How will that change our 2013 holiday dinners?