Milestones

When there is a new baby in the house, you mark milestones. Whether is it the first time he rolls over or mutters a discernible word, mommies and daddies mark it down. And in today’s world, we post it online, on some form of social media, for the whole world to enjoy with us.

 

We have a new baby. She’s 15 weeks old and already potty trained. Ornery and feisty in the morning, she is the perfect lap dog in the evening when we’re all on the sofa ready to read and relax. Yes, she’s a fur baby, another goldendoodle, and she is the perfect compliment to our 4 ½ year doodle Winston. Maggie is her name and we are smitten. We are marking her milestones, her shot schedule, waiting impatiently for the day we can safely take her for a walk around the neighborhood, tracking her weight gain, and teaching her manners. It’s fun marking those milestones!

 

As I mentioned, Maggie has a big brother, Winston. While Maggie is very much her own dog, she looks up to her older and wiser doodle. While they play together something fierce and while I love watching them romp, I most enjoy watching Winston guide Maggie, showing her the ropes, minding his manners so that she learns hers. I caught this photo of them together the other day. You get the idea.12510461_10208182632501642_3559157654668221333_n

 

I wanted to share this photo with you for two other reasons.

 

  1. When Compassion Tea started on February 26, 2011, (Do you note the date? Do you see the milestone?) we began much like this photo, looking up to our God for guidance and direction. We founded our company on these 5 Bible verses:
    1. Proverbs 19:21 “You can make plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail.”
    2. Psalm 37:5 “Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him, and he will help you.”
    3. Psalm 16: 1-3 “Keep me safe, O God, for I have come to you for refuge. I said to the Lord, ‘You are my Master! Every good thing I have comes from you.’ The godly people in the land are my true heroes! I take pleasure in them!”
    4. Psalm 90:17 “And may the Lord our God show us his approval and make our efforts successful. Yes, make our efforts successful!”
    5. Isaiah 46:9-11 “Remember the things I have done in the past. For I alone am God! I am God, and there is none like me. Only I can tell you the future before it even happens. Everything I plan will come to pass, for I do whatever I wish. I will call a swift bird of prey from the east – a leader from a distant land to come and do my bidding. I have said what I would do and I will do it.”

Over the past 5 years, we’ve held approximately 250 prayer calls to pray over our tea, over our business, over our customers, over the people we are serving in Africa, over the people in Africa who are providing medical and spiritual care at our partner clinics, over each other. We have consistently held up the company before the Lord and asked him to heal, redeem, direct, guide, provide wisdom, to multiply efforts and monies and supplies, to give us strength to keep walking forward, faith to take the next step, and hope for an even bolder, broader, and beautiful future wherein we are able to serve more and more people. 250 calls. Yes, we’re like puppies looking up to the big dog to see what’s next!

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2012-10-13_14-10-53_91tea rounds ready to goTea pouches for Christmas Tea bazaarAnd he has rewarded that faithfulness on our part, offering the next steps when the time was right, bringing new customers and directions, and multiplying the funding we are able to provide to CompassioNow. And the number of prayers He has answered in those 5 years is astonishing. With God as our CEO, we have built a thriving business, we have changed lives here in the US and in Africa, and we have brought Him continual glory. That’s not to mention the new connections and the healing and the stronger relationships and the safe travel and the beneficial exchange rates and shipping costs. The list of success and answered prayer goes on and on!

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Reason 2:

On February 4, 2006, CompassioNow was awarded its non-profit tax status, making it a legal and legit organization. Ed and Wendy Bjurstrom recently tabulated what they have been able to provide monetarily to the clinics in Africa over the last 10 years. They discovered that it was over $1 million! Another milestone… $1 million and a 10 year anniversary! Woo hoo! But that hardly shows the full impact of those 10 years. It doesn’t tell the stories of the lives changed, the clinics that have been built, the new buildings and medical wings, the staff and supplies, the men, women, and children who have turned to one of our partner clinics as a last resort, after the witch doctor didn’t work, after the government hospital sent them away without proper treatment, after they’ve come to the end of their ropes, desperate for relief and healing.

It doesn’t tell the stories of the people tested early for AIDS and who began early medical intervention, the lives saved from parasites, which could have been lost had it not been for a basic antibiotic; the children who have been given life through urgent medical care and/or pre and perinatal care of their mothers; the home-bound who have community health care providers making regular visits; and the children who have been granted eyesight from a donated pair of eyeglasses.

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This doesn’t tell the story of medical training and supplies, of medicine shelves stocked, and birthing beds delivered, of bicycle ambulances, and fixed airplanes to transport medical staff and those who need more urgent medical care.

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We can put a number on the money raised for Africa but we can’t put a number to the people who have been touched by CompassioNow and its mission to bring “life-saving medical care to the world’s least served.”

 

Oh the milestones! Biblically, when people wanted to celebrate and remember what the Lord had done for them, they built an altar or raised a rock on end. They made a physical mark on the landscape to say, “Here, God answered us.” That is no longer tradition. But here, we raise our Ebenezer, we make our mark on cyberspace, we count the successes and mark the milestones. And we look forward to the future, knowing that with God as our CEO there is more goodness to come. “Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him and he will help you.”

 

 

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Drought

There is a dripping sound in our bathroom. It’s been there for months. We thought it was the air conditioning/furnace in the attic above. And it was. Ironic that in this drought, in this period of desert living, we’ve had a hot water leak under the house and an air conditioning leak in the attic. So we had it fixed and stood in the bathroom and marveled because there it was still. The dripping. Hubby has crawled under the house; he has battled the attic; he has searched for any indication whatsoever of wet, dripping something. Nada.

But there’s a crack in the tile of the bathroom floor. IMG_5863It is new in the last months, and it is growing. And my friend has a pool that is sinking on one side, and there are articles that the land is shrinking because of the drought, and so is it possible that our phantom drip is no drip but rather a cracking and shifting?

The drought. There are dire reports that this is just the beginning and California is going to turn into desert, that the lush green and fields and trees and agriculture that feeds our nation are drying up.IMG_5872 IMG_5873

There are talking heads saying this is just the beginning; judgment is upon us. Conversely, there are weather forecasters projecting an El Nino winter full of hearty, drenching, reservoir-filling rain.

The drought. And the moms meet at the poolside and watch the kids splash and they compare their sub-par gardens and their conservation efforts and the dirt of their cars and the grime behind the ears of the kids and the water bills.IMG_5875 IMG_5877

But the kids are in the water; there is water when we turn on the faucet; there is water to wash the scrapes and cuts of summer, to cool a feverish head, to wash away grime and to quench the sandy throats of summer.

Yes, the specter of turning on the faucet and watching the last drip of water eek its way out is there… off in the distance… and we’re praying for God to shelter us from that reality… and we’re saving water with a measured frenzy. And the government agencies are singing their 2-song showers and chanting their 50% reduction slogans, and we hope they’re making plans to be better stewards themselves.

But there is water in this drought.

And now there is water at Chalabesa!

Back in 2011, I wrote about Chalabesa:
The situation at Chalabesa Mission Hospital in Zambia is similar. The clinic is run by a Polish nun, Sister Marta, and is the only one for miles. Sister Marta has been reporting that the solar-powered electrical system hasn’t been working and the water for the clinic comes either from a wind-powered pump that is leaking and that only works when there is wind or from a river 160 yards away. This river is visited by elephants and other animals who not only drink its water but who grossly contaminate it. To compound things, measles, deadly diarrhea, typhoid, and malaria are striking in epidemic proportions due to the drought in that part of the world. In one day alone, with flashlight in hand, Sister Marta took care of over 240 patients who had walked miles and waited hours in the dark, crowded rooms of the clinic. These patients were thirsty, feverish, ill, dehydrated, malnourished, and fearful for their lives. Chalabesa is their only hope.
Currently, the CareNow Foundation is raising funds to supply the Chalabesa Mission Hospital with a “bucket brigade” of relief. They would like to dig two new boreholes, erect two new 2,600 gallon tanks and necessary pipework, and purchase two solar pumps plus associated solar panels and control electronics.

On June 17 of this year, we received confirmation that there is now running water in the hospital! All the necessary pipes and pumps and panels are installed and running!

It has been a long process, one complicated by what we lovingly call “Africa time,” a pace that can seem aggravatingly slow compared to our rush-life. Thanks to our friends at Mission Medic Air for their part in arranging the supplies and the workers and for their aid in accomplishing this monumental task! How thrilled we are that patients at the clinic can now access running water, that treating patients can be both easier and more sanitary, and that precious time helping people can be reclaimed from hauling water from the river. Hooray!

It reminds me of something. Sunday, during church, I watched a dear friend walk up the aisle looking for a place to sit. She saw another sister of the faith and joined her in the pew. But not without the kind of embrace that speaks volumes to the depth of the friendship. Witnessing this, I thought of the struggles that friend has gone through. And I thought of the storms and the deserts she has weathered and traversed. And I thought of the new paths God is showing her. How incrementally He is gracing her with new beginnings, how He has been faithful this whole time to walk with her and to even carry her through those storms and across those deserts. But witnessing it in someone else’s life… oh, the joy!

God has been faithful in bringing water to Chalabesa. He has been faithful in bringing my friend through her drought period. He will be faithful in this drought, too.IMG_5622 IMG_5602

And one day soon, the skies will open and water will fall and we’ll go dance in it, letting the moisture sink in deep, deep into the cracks in our foundations. Because when He is your foundation, the shifting, shrinking earth all around can’t shake you.

Perspective

IMG_5256Meet Dragon. You may look at this and think, “Why did she name that walrus Dragon?” That is an appropriate question. First of all, the walrus in question is my son’s… not mine. Secondly, this creature in question… is a dragon… and a walrus. It’s complicated.

Let me explain. We walked into our favorite toy store and Joseph began his usual systematic hunt through the store for the best “I want.” He approached me after awhile and showed me this puppet.IMG_5255

“What is this?” he asked.
“A walrus,” I replied.

He wasn’t happy with my answer. He asked the clerk. “Umm, excuse me. What is this?”
“A walrus,” she replied.

And then he explained the look on his face. “No, this is a dragon. See.”IMG_5258

I still didn’t see really, but I pretended. “Oh, yes… flippers, wings, yes! Very good.” And the walrus came home with us.

It wasn’t until later that day that I really sat down and looked at the walrus, trying to see him with my son’s eyes. Upside down walrus. No, dragon.

And then my eyes glazed over and my heart flip-flopped and I saw what he saw. Tusks became horns. Beard became fluffy-top-of-the-head hair. Tail… still tail… but more dragon-like upside down.IMG_5259

Walrus… dragon… it’s a matter of perspective.

Now, what is this?

Be sure to crush your loose tea leaves before measuring!

You probably answered, “Tea!” And like my walrus answer, it is a correct answer. But let’s reconsider. Let’s turn it upside down and look at it from a different angle.

Because maybe it is this.

Stina and Nurse Susan hug. That's Dr. Mac in the background.

 

Wendy and Scovia

Fred leaves with Beatrice for the 40 mile ride to the closest x-ray machine.

Fred leaves with Beatrice for the 40 mile ride to the closest x-ray machine.

Fred, in blue, being prayed over by his friends.

Fred, in blue, being prayed over by his friends.

 

 

 

 

 

And this.0-43

Sister Dlimani, Community Caregivers, Dawn's daughter Karin, and Stina take time for tea.

Some of the happy faces coming to day care.

I'm a 1000 HIlls Kid -- it is so good to belong!

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Stina teaches the Community Caregivers how to use their new stethoscopes

Elphus in his tiny room

Where Elphus lives

Wendy and Dawn Leppan get ready to distribute the kits.

Community Caregivers with their new medical kits

 

It could be this also.Day12Meds.162535 Day7nurseJoyceatKareroclinin.160848

I have to ask, then, if tea can be all of these things, why aren’t we looking at tea in this way? Why are you still buying your tea at the grocery store? Why aren’t you buying tea that can be this? Compassion Tea… Share Tea… Save Lives… Tea NOW!

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Our Most Precious Resource

In the court of public opinion, there are no winners.

Am I the only one who thinks like this?

I’ve crafted a life that very carefully kowtows to the various cults out there… the environmental cults of save the trees and save the animals from plastics, and the food cults that say processed is bad and fresh is best, and the cult of cleanliness is next to godliness, and the cult of send your kids to school with colorful, nutritious lunches packed in neat little boxes, send them neat and tidy and well-showered and (goodness knows I try) well-groomed (although my tween is really challenging my style and sense of well-groomed). I have bowed at their altars, taken photos of my triumphs and shared them on Facebook, proud of my stellar accomplishments, expecting another star for my motherhood crown.

And now, in a barrage of letters, newspaper articles, and yard signs, I’m suddenly told that my efforts are not good enough because we’re in a drought and everyone needs to reduce water usage by 25%. Suddenly, water, and not trees, or the atmosphere, or the polar ice caps, is our most precious resource. And I’m scathing that poor planning, lack of responsible management, and politics have led us to this point (I can’t honestly say that I know these things to be factual, but it is ALWAYS easier to point the finger at someone else!).

So, in my mind, I’m playing David Letterman and creating the top 10 list of how to conserve water, and I’m laughing like a maniac at how it all flies in the face of the other altars of humanity at which I’ve been bowing. Like this:
10. Do laundry less. Because stained and smelly with food hanging off the sleeve is the new black.
9. Buy more clothes so you can do laundry less. But some poor person in a third world country is sitting in a sweatshop under horrific conditions for you to buy those new clothes at a “reasonable price.”
8. Flush less. Ewwww. At what point does that become unsanitary?
7. Use less soap and water for cleaning and more harsh chemicals.
6. Eat more processed foods…. We save water in these ways: watering the garden, rinsing the fresh foods, preparing the foods, washing the prepping pans, cutting boards, knives, spoons, etc. After all, no water is used when you take your meal straight from the freezer to the microwave.
5. Paper plates, plastic silverware, Styrofoam cups! Can’t you just hear the tree-huggers screaming! But if I’m not running the dishwasher, then I’m saving water.
4. Plastic baggies for packing school lunches. Suddenly, my life is getting easier! And the plastic industry is happy!
3. Become bigger consumers… eat out more, travel more, be away from the house MORE… it’s someone else’s water bill.
2. Bathe less and when you do, do it Navy style, and line the shower with buckets to capture every last drop of this precious resource. People, I have a tween … I can attest here and now that this is a public safety issue.
1. Live like this is a third world country.

Okay, I might be a bit cynical about this whole thing.

And the conscious kicks it into high gear.

Because back in 2011, when I first started working with Compassion Tea Company, I became aware of a medical clinic in Zambia called Chalabesa Mission Hospital. This medical clinic was run by a nun who worked tirelessly to bring medical care to the people of the bush. Her clinic was the only one for miles around. People walked all day to reach it. They waited all day to be seen. The nun might treat over 200 people in one day. And the clinic operated on solar panels that worked sporadically and it’s water pipes had broken. At that time, the nun and her meager staff walked 169 yards to a dirty river where elephants bathe in order to bucket brigade water back to the clinic. (read more)

Waddington by the Mission Medic Air plane and team members.

Waddington by the Mission Medic Air plane and team members.

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Carrying water on their heads

Carrying water on their heads

A boy struggles with his water load.

A boy struggles with his water load.

Laundry and water are carried in jerrycans long distances.

Laundry and water are carried in jerrycans long distances.

Three years have passed.

And while the nun is a different person, the bucket brigade continues. The medical care is often provided by flashlight. And 100s of people still walk miles and wait hours for the care.

CompassioNow has worked with Mission Medic Air, Zambia to remedy this situation, but things move slowly in Zambia. We’re waiting breathlessly to hear that the pipes have been fixed, that a new well has been dug, that running water is back at the clinic. It could happen soon! We’re praying it happens soon.

Water is a precious resource, and Zambia is a third world country, and they’ve learned to be creative and resourceful to meet the needs of the people there.

And I’m writing cynical letters to the editors in my head, throwing snarky comments around in my head when I see the neighbor’s teenage son hosing off his beater car, and generally in a bad frame of mind over this new inconvenience.

And there’s Jesus at the well, talking to the woman who has come to fill her bucket for the day. He’s telling her that he can offer her living water.

John 4: 10 Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”

11 “But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket,” she said, “and this well is very deep. Where would you get this living water? 12 And besides, do you think you’re greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well? How can you offer better water than he and his sons and his animals enjoyed?”

13 Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. 14 But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”

15 “Please, sir,” the woman said, “give me this water! Then I’ll never be thirsty again, and I won’t have to come here to get water.”

Jesus doesn’t tell her that she’ll never have to come to the well again. She’ll need to go to the well again. Life demands water. But the burden of it will be lifted. She hears his words thinking this is the fountain of youth he is offering, a spring of water that offers perpetual youth and strength, eternal life even. In the sense of life on earth forever, not in the heavenly sense. And she’s ready to sign her name on the dotted line, to enter contract on this amazing fountain of joy.

Give me this water! My heart echoes her’s. Give me this water that I will never be thirsty again. Thirst is a wild craving. It gums up the throat, it clouds the brain, it pastes the tongue in place. Thirst is a cynicism, body turning into desert.

Give me this water! This water that quenches the cynicism, the dried up thoughts and pasty mouth, that says, “You have eternal life through Jesus; so what’s the fuss?”

“A fresh bubbling spring within them.” A spring fed by the Holy Spirit, joy unspeakable, life eternal.

This is the most precious resource.

Technology… Who Needs It?

I have a tween in the house and the other day she greeted me at the school gate with these words, ”Mom, I am like the only person in the fifth grade who doesn’t have an iPod or a phone of my own. I so need one.” Something about the tone simultaneously made my toes curl and my heels dig deep as if they were growing roots right there on the school sidewalk. Need? You NEED an iPod or a phone? Whatever for? NEED, like water, air, safety, love? NEED? We have radio, CDs, computers, and an iPad. She has a Kindle all her own. I am rarely more than 10 minutes away from her vicinity and when I am she is with trustworthy adults who are armed with cell phones. I made her write a paper explaining her needs. She needs technology so she can do research. Well, we have technology already available. No. There really is no reason at this point in time that my tweener needs more technology, except maybe to feel cool for the 2.5 seconds a material possession will bring happiness. I am that mom.

In the middle of this ongoing discussion, I came across an article in the Wall Street Journal titled “Why Your iPhone Upgrade Is Good for the Poor.” The article, written by Daniel Fletcher, professor of bioengineering and biophysics at the Blum Center for Developing Economies at the University of California, Berkeley, explains how Fletcher and his students are repurposing smartphones. Such repurposed phones are now able to capture images of human cells to look for malaria parasites and tuberculosis causing bacteria. These repurposed phones are able to screen for parasitic worm infections, to scan the eye for retinal diseases, to scan for oral cancer. Fletcher tells how other researchers have been able to create a cellphone stethoscope and a portable ultrasound system. Says Fletcher, “But with smartphones capable of providing basic primary-care services and diagnostic work, and with expanding wireless services that allow doctors to interpret results and recommend treatments remotely, many of the services we enjoy at the doctor’s office will be available in the field – anywhere in the world.”

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Geoff and Nelle of Mission Medic Air hold the portable dental chair.

Isn’t that beautiful! It reminds me of the portable dental chair Wendy and Stina Bjurstrom just delivered to Mission Medic Air in Zambia. The chair is lightweight enough that it can easily fit in their airplane and can be worn as a backpack. It comes with a drill that is solar powered and it will make dental clinics in the bush both easier and more productive. The article also reminds me of the medical kits just delivered to the Community Caregivers at 1000 Hill Clinic in South Africa. Each medical kit has a brand new stethoscope donated by MDF instruments and basic health care items donated by Giving Children Hope and CompassioNow.

Community Caregivers with their new medical kits

Community Caregivers with their new medical kits

These kits will go with the caregivers into the villages surrounding the clinic serving some 20,000 people. The caregivers are the front line for the clinic, assessing patients at home, assessing needs, providing basic health care and education. Imagine if they were armed with smartphones capable of scanning for parasites or infections!

When Anne and Lee Kennedy returned from Tanzania in July, they noted that since their last visit to Africa, what had changed the most, what they found to be the most shocking change, was the prevalence of cell phones. People in Arusha had more than one phone, were calling each other frequently. In fact, cell phone coverage was better than the roads. One day when they were trying to find a particular clinic, Anne and Lee called Wendy back in the United States to get directions. The locals didn’t know where the clinic was, but through the use of technology, Anne and Lee were able to find the remote spot. Lee commented then on the changes this increase in technology will bring to the remoter parts of the world, parts of the world where healthcare is so scarce. Hospitals and clinics and transportation providers will be able to communicate more effectively. Doctors in the cities may be able to diagnose complaints over the phone for patients far out in the bush. Or better yet, doctors will be able to provide ever more sophisticated tests and treatments while in the bush.

And yet, we must remember that technology has its limitations. A beautiful x-ray machine sits at the clinic at Lily of the Valley Medical Centre in South Africa, useless because someone stole the computers back in May. Similarly, Danny and Nancy Smelser at Tanzania Christian Clinic have been praying for months for a trained technician to come operate their newly donated x-ray machine. People are still needed… to carry and use and protect the technology, to provide the healthcare.

This past week, Wendy sent daily photos, videos, and updates from her smartphone… updates that told the stories of the 1000 Hills Clinic in South Africa. How marvelous it was to open my inbox and see these pictures, to hear the joy and gratitude, to read the heartbreaking stories, and to know that it was all happening in real time, on the other side of the world, but it felt so close, so accessible. Yes, technology is making the world smaller, bringing communities together, advancing new methods of providing healthcare to parts of the world where healthcare is scarce, teaching us about our neighbors on the other side of the world. As we search for ever better reception, pixels, platforms, functionality, as our affluence demands higher quality, we are helping the poor.

Perhaps if my tweener had written that last line as the reason for her need of further technology, I might have caved. A little. Perhaps.

Making Progress

“I’m thirsty all day long. And I have to sit on a bench all day so my back hurts and my neck hurts. It’s hard to sit on a bench with no back to it. And the bun in my hair is giving me a headache. I hate wearing buns; they always give me headaches….” The tirade went on for several minutes in this vein. I can’t say I blame my daughter for her rant. I completely get where she is coming from. I would have the exact same woes were I to have a tight bun in my hair, to sit on a backless bench all day, and not have a water bottle handy. But I think it is a great lesson for her.

Last week was Apple Valley School week for Clara’s class. On Monday, the fourth graders all arrived in period costume and were greeted by a somber and proper Mr. O’Brien – the multi-tasking teacher of kindergartners through high schoolers in the one-room schoolhouse circa 1854 which had once been a 21st century fourth grade classroom outfitted with projection screens and computers and other modern amenities like over-head lighting. As the class went through the re-enactment of life in an 1854 schoolroom, they had a lot of fun.

Clara circa 1854

Clara circa 1854

Dunce caps, fate cards (like Clara drawing a card that said she couldn’t catch the cow and therefore couldn’t get the milking done making her tardy for school for which she lost 5 points), funny names like Matthew who was for the week Carl Jr. (Get it? The fast food joint?), and a classroom that had a cardboard and paper stove, ye old blackboards instead of wipe boards, and a noticeable lack of technology all added to the enchantment of the re-enactment. They had age-appropriate lessons in math and writing and reading (in that each student was given a new age to show the broad spectrum of ages and abilities an 1854 schoolhouse would have housed). There was even an old-fashioned spelling bee.

The first time the ruler hit the desks to get everyone’s attention, there was a visible jump among the students. Old-fashioned manners were in play… bowing and curtseying, ladies first, addressing the teacher in a manner more formal than with the familiarity that has fallen over everyone in the last weeks of school. For misbehavior, students stood on a brick or wore a dunce cap. Clara nearly came unglued on Tuesday morning when she discovered that she had marker on her hands and she would lose points for coming to school with dirty hands. Hats and bonnets were put on when stepping outside and were taken off immediately upon entering the schoolroom.

And lunch was interesting. No Ziploc baggies, no plastic containers, no pre-packaged foods, no cheese sticks, yogurt tubes, juice boxes, Lunchables, water bottles, you get the idea. I packed real foods in a cloth handkerchief all week. But I was not able to let go of the refrigeration element. The ice pack must go in.

It was fun and educational, but as Clara’s tirade after school indicates, it wasn’t all sunshine and daisies. Sometimes, in our high-speed lives, we get to romanticizing the past, thinking that the simple life of yester-year was truly better and if we could just recreate that simplicity we would find our own personal nirvana. Go ahead, chase that rainbow, but any pot of gold you “discover” will be fleeting at best, elusive at worst.

So, why am I bringing this up? Well, first of all, it is fun to see how far we’ve gotten since 1854 when public schooling first began. A group of moms was chatting after school, waiting for our cherubs to emerge from 1854, and we were particularly discussing the challenges of packing lunches circa 1854. As I said then and will say again, “Progress is a good thing.” While there have been aspects of last week, namely the increased manners at school, that I’ve liked, I wouldn’t change 2013 for 1854. No thank you. I rather like plastic and refrigeration and over-head lighting and computers and a closet full of clothes.

Do I need to tell you that there are places in the world where the progress of 2013 looks more like 1854? Because we deal with medical care through CompassioNow, this is the area where I see this the most. Take Zambia, for instance. Through Mission Medic Air, doctors and nurses fly into the bush for monthly health clinics. Otherwise, people in the bush are left to fend for themselves medically. There is no local CVS to head to for over-the-counter antibiotic creams, pain relievers, or bandages. The closest doctor does not hold a Ph.D. but rather has completed extensive training in magic and voodoo. Healthcare in the bush is rudimentary at best.

The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article (click here to read the full article May 29, 2013 edition) discussing the fact that counterfeit malaria medicines are flooding Africa right now. These medicines, being sold in open air markets and in shoddy “pharmacies” across the continent contain no active ingredients and are threatening years of progress in the quelling of a disease that proves fatal for people who do not have access to adequate, up-to-date healthcare.  According to the article, “Massive Western aid programs have financed the purchase of millions of doses of Coartem and other antimalaria efforts such as insecticidal nets and spraying. Combined, they have helped bring about a sharp reduction in malaria fatalities, health experts say. Over the past decade, annual deaths from malaria in Africa fell by a third, to about 600,000, according to the World Health Organization.” A seizure of counterfeit malaria drugs in Angola last June recovered 1.4 million packets of the medicine, enough to treat over half of the annual cases of malaria in Angola in a year. One report estimates that 1/3 of all malaria drugs sold in Uganda and Tanzania are counterfeit. The article states that, “A study published last year by the Lancet medical journal and conducted by a unit of the National Institutes of Health found that 35% of 2,300 malaria drug samples tested in sub-Saharan Africa were of ‘poor quality’—either fake, expired or badly made. Such pills ‘are very likely to jeopardize the unprecedented progress and investments in control and elimination of malaria,’ the paper’s authors concluded.”

Concurrently, reports of new drug-resistant TB strains are spreading from the third world to the first world. TB, according to the World Health Organization, is second only to HIV/AIDS as the greatest worldwide killer. Between the years of 1990 and 2011 the TB death rate dropped 41%.  Yet, due to drug shortages worldwide, including in the United States, the drug-resistant strains are threatening this progress. The clinics we support see malaria and TB as two of the top complaints they address along with HIV/AIDS. However, they have a hard time keeping typical medicines stocked. Government funding is slim, availability is scarce, and knowledge of sanitary practices among the broader public is lacking.

That doesn’t stop us from trying! Because any progress is good in the realm of healthcare, we continue to look for new ways to send supplies, funding, and aid to the clinics we support. Above all, we make sure that the medicines we supply are up-to-date, not set to expire, and are legitimate. And we continue to add new clinics when we can to spread quality healthcare to people who need it. Several of our Compassion Tea team just attended the World Tea Expo in Las Vegas where they met tea suppliers from all over, including Uganda. We are very excited about the prospects of selling tea grown and processed in Uganda where we just recently added a clinic to support. Stay tuned!

Progress is good. Progress is rapid here… too rapid sometimes. But in Africa, progress is slow and is constantly in jeopardy.  That is worthy of a tirade, too.

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.

You’ve Got Mail!

“Is there anything in the mail for me?” This has become the daily refrain. Most days, the answer is a defeating, “No. Nothing but bills and ads.” But occasionally, the kids receive a card from a diligent family member or friend who remembers every major and minor holiday or something that I bought off those daily discount websites. The best days are the days around holidays when a care package from a grandparent arrives. The kids are like raccoons… prying and clawing their way into the box, rooting through its contents, tossing what belongs to the other aside, all in a flurry of tissue paper, packing peanuts, and bubble wrap. It’s over before it even began. Long before I can get the camera ready.

Imagine receiving a box with that same childlike excitement! Imagine tearing into it expectantly only to discover that the contents had been ransacked. The items you were anticipating breathlessly had been stolen out of the box. I don’t think my kids would survive the trauma.

It turns out that this is common in the African mail systems. Last year, CareNow Foundation sent a shipment of 200 kilos worth of pharmaceuticals to Mission Medic Air in Zambia. However, Zambian customs officials opened the boxes, removed about half of the medicines, closed up the boxes, and sent them on as if nothing was missing or awry. These medicines were to treat malaria, parasites and worms, burns, and infections… common ailments in rural Africa. This year, when Ed and Wendy Bjurstrom, of CareNow Foundation and Compassion Tea, traveled to Africa in November, they took seven suitcases full of medicines and medical supplies with them to distribute to the clinics CareNow Foundation supports, including those supplied by Mission Medic Air. While visiting with members of Mission Medic Air, the Bjurstroms saw that certain medicines were almost out. When they returned to the States, they organized a shipment of supplies that was sent out in January. Thankfully, this shipment arrived unscathed within the last weeks!

However, because they were unable to visit Dawn Faith Leppan at the 1000 Hills Clinic in South Africa during their November trip, the Bjurstroms organized a shipment of medical supplies to Ms. Leppan and her clinic. Following on the tails of the happy news out of Zambia, came a separate email. The supplies CareNow Foundation sent to 1000 Hills Clinic in South Africa did not arrive. Someone along the way ransacked the boxes of supplies, pillaged them, and left only the complimentary pouches of Compassion Tea accompanying the supplies. How disappointing on so many levels! And frustrating and irritating and, well, frankly, it just makes the blood boil. It’s the way things work in Africa. I’ve heard Ed say that while this kind of injustice makes working in Africa so much harder, it is also all the more reason to keep trying.

To her disturbing email, Ms. Leppan attached a couple of pictures of recent cases that had come into the clinic for medical care. One picture showed a woman whose breast had ruptured and was spilling out of her chest cavity. The other showed a man with a 2 -3 inch swath of raw, open wound across the back of his neck. The man was diabetic and had been turned away from another hospital, one that hadn’t been able to treat him. These two individuals were in obvious need of medical care. Dawn and her staff did what they could. But wouldn’t it have been nice if they had had those medical supplies to help them help others?
The other day, our doorbell rang. It was a young lady claiming to live just up the road from us. She gave a long story about how her father is a Marine and she wants to go to aeronautical engineering school and she needs help raising the funds to do so. As she wove her tale, it became more and more evident that there was little reality to what she had to say. And yet, I listened. Somewhere in the back of my head a little thought came forcing its way out, “Jesus calls us to be generous.” I ended up supporting her cause. Shortly thereafter, my neighbor began texting me about this gal. He was obviously upset that she had been to his door. Upset at her lies, upset at her solicitation, upset to be bothered… who knows exactly… but upset. And in my usual way, I began to feel guilty and gullible. What a schmuck I must be to give money to a liar/ door-to-door solicitor. But I did, and as I mulled this over, I threw up this prayer: “Father God, I pray that you help that child. I don’t know what has driven her to create such a wild story and to go door-to-door selling magazines. But it obviously isn’t good. Lord, use that money to help her reach out of her situation, to find you and to know you better. Amen.” The Bible tells us repeatedly that God can take the bad and make it beautiful.

So, will you pray with me that God will take those stolen medicines and medical supplies and turn their theft into something good? I also pray that the next box Dawn Faith Leppan anxiously tears open will hold untold joy… that she will be able to raccoon her way through the contents in obvious delight at the different ways she will be able to help the “least served” in her neck of Africa.