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!

IMG_6520

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!

12646959_1023048841085966_4559845413675958138_nunnamedebenezers-front_311_222

IMG_4933

 

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.

10730920_758595184211972_8498419272600274584_nBuffalo Bicycle Ambulanceunnamed-9unnamed-6

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.

image-2image-1unnamed-10 copy 2unnamed-6 copy 2

 

0-55

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.”

 

 

Advertisements

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!

1045059_10151597323681791_89119693_n

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!

IMG_0257 IMG_8083

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.”

0-55

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.

For the Birds

ImageLast night, Joseph and I decided to mother/son bond with an after-dinner dip in the pool. Before we got in however, we discovered a very dead, very small, barely feathered baby bird floating in the pool. Of course, all kinds of thoughts went through my head about the meaning of life and the fragility of it and the delicate balance between nature and humanity and… then I jumped in the pool and forgot about it.

 

This morning, I was working on T-ball stuff on my computer and was occasionally glancing up to watch the squirrels scamper about outside the window. Something larger caught my eye and when I focused I realized it was a turkey hen. She was immediately followed by a sister, and when a very large tom strutted past, I got very excited. In total, there were 3 toms and 2 hens and they were very intent on investigating our new landscaping. Winston, the dog, got a whiff through the open windows and his barking chased the 2 hens over the fence into the neighbor’s yard. I believe 2 of the toms followed at some point. But one tom made it all the way to the top of the garden… within sight of the garden boxes. With a mighty leap, he cleared the pool fence, flopped up over the garden boxes, nearly soared for a millisecond over the chicken coop and then crashed somewhere behind the shed in another neighbor’s yard. It was astonishing. This was a prize tom with a very long beard and a beautiful red head. His feathers shown iridescent when he rose above the house shadows into the morning sunlight and had for a striking moment a sheer glory I would never have associated with a turkey.

Image 

Shortly thereafter, I drove the kiddos to school… in the rental car I am using while my car is in the shop yet again. As I was pulling up to the drop off lane, I noticed that the car was sputtering and acting funny and otherwise shutting down. I pulled off to the side as much as possible so as not to block traffic too much, sent my very worried daughter into class, and arranged for a friend to take my son to school. The minutes that followed were harried and disappointing, of course, but with some deductive reasoning (i.e. a friend who had something very similar happen to her once upon a time) and the discussion I had had with the rental car guy yesterday I deduced correctly that when this car says it is nearly empty it isn’t being gracious and kind and giving you an early warning. It is going to stop and it won’t go any further until it is fed… um, given more gas. (Insert parallels between children and cars here if you will.) The school principal and the school custodian remembered a gas can used for one of the school’s machines and filled the tank with enough to get me through the rest of the extensive drop-off line and to the closest gas station. I pray a lot out loud while driving and this trip was no different!

 

While filling up the tank, I began to think back over the events of the morning. And I saw very clearly some parallels. 1. Boy, did I feel like a turkey.

 

No seriously. I did feel like a turkey, that part is true. At times this morning, I felt very like the turkeys who heard the barking of the dog and in squawking and squabbling haste jumped pell mell over the fence. But really I had a moment of sheer glory when the sun fell full on my feathers and I didn’t just flap but soared over it all. It was when, with heart racing and knuckles whitening, I prayed out loud for God to get this car to the gas station without further shut downs. And He did. And it was when God made sure that the car shut down in a safe place instead of on a busy road. It was a place where the kids would be safe, could even get on with their days. It was a place where people were there to help. And even though I felt like a turkey, I feel blessed. It would have been very easy to complain and chalk this up to a very bad day. But thanks to friends who are great reminders to look for God’s blessings, and thanks to God who has been working on weeding that attitude of ingratitude out of my standard repertoire, I feel blessed.

 

Here’s where I normally bring it all back to Compassion Tea. The part where I explain what this all has to do with tea, Africa, compassion, or some combination of the three. Obviously, I am very grateful for the compassion of the school staff and the friends who helped me out this morning. Their love and aid made me feel less like a turkey. But, I really want to go back to that baby bird in the pool. Somewhere during the last 18 hours, I paused for a moment and thought about the mama bird. Was she watching her baby when it fell in the pool? Was she cheering it on as it attempted its first flight? Was she frantic at the edge wondering, “Who will help my baby,” wondering how to reach in there and save her baby? Was she out gathering food when a predator came and knocked the infant out of the nest? What was her response when she came home and took roll count? Do mama birds even have these thoughts? How instinctual is mothering and what does instinct dictate when there is loss?

 

And here is where my mind and heart crossed over to Africa and I thought about the mothers who watch their children starve or die of AIDS because there is nothing to be done. I thought of the mothers who die themselves and leave their progeny with little or nothing in the way of shelter and food, safety and security. I thought of the mothers who in fear walk miles to protect their children from men who may rape, abduct, or abuse them and of the mothers who have despaired for their children. In a world so cruel, where survival is the goal of the day, where medicine, food, water, and security are scarce, what is a mother to do? Some turn their backs, some sell their daughters into sexual slavery and their sons into forced labor, some abandon them to an orphanage… but at what cost.

 

I have a friend who, bless her heart, reads my blogs. After my last one, she commented on how some people have a heart for Africa but she doesn’t. She prays for people who work in Africa and appreciates their work, but she just doesn’t have a heart for Africa. Her comment sounded sad to me. There doesn’t need to be sadness in her heart, however, because while her heart may not bleed the same color mine does for Africa, it certainly bleeds for the mothers in our community. This friend will do anything to help another mother… she provides childcare, school drop offs and pick ups, prayer, meals, and endless emotional support. And our community is so blessed because of her.

Do you remember that Bette Midler song… The Wind Beneath My Wings? In the song, Midler sings about friendship being that inspiration, the necessary uplift to get us off the ground. My friend, the one who has a heart for local mothers, is certainly that kind of uplift, the “wind beneath the wings” of so many of us moms. Because of her support, we are able to get beyond the shadows, up into the sunlight, and if it is even just for a millisecond, our feathers shine iridescent and our flight is more soaring than flapping. Faith in God is also that amazing “wind beneath the wings.” I’m learning every day how He provides the winds to help us soar. What a rush!

 

And through the work of Compassion Tea and CompassioNow, we can provide the “wind beneath the wings” of mothers in Africa. By providing health care, education, job training, childcare, and food Dawn Leppan at 1000 Hills in South Africa is turning around an entire community. By educating, feeding, housing, and providing medical care to orphans, places like Lily of the Valley and Village of Hope are able to provide children with the mothering they need and so desperately crave. Mission Medic Air in Zambia, Tanzania Christian Clinic, and Karero Medical Dispensary give mothers a place to turn for medical aid. Person by person, mother by mother, child by child, we are saving lives in Africa thanks to the support of those who drink Compassion Tea or donate to CompassioNow.

 

You know, we all have turkey moments, even turkey days. But friends, the good Lord, and even our bleeding hearts can take us to heights we can never imagine. And for a moment, we are less turkey and more glory. May your day be full of glory.

 

Part 2… The Hope Part

“I’d like you to watch this video. In it, a boy is crying because he is the head of his household. He went to the well to get water for his siblings. The other children at the well pushed him and he wasn’t able to fetch water for his family. He has a mat and no blankets for his family to sleep on. His 4-year-old sister is lame and requires care for even the simplest of things. The boy is 12. At 12, my daughter hopes to purchase her first phone and get her ears pierced. While she will have responsibilities around the house, she will certainly not be responsible for running the household. This boy’s story breaks my heart. And this is just one story. One horrific, unthinkable, unbelievable, mind-blowingly sad story. (stay tuned)”

I wrote and published that two weeks ago and I owe you the rest of the story. Here, I’ve added a story from a woman named Rose. I thought about condensing it but it is so powerful that editing it down would destroy its power. (taken from the Village of Hope website)

English is not Rose’s native tongue, but we have reproduced her story here verbatim so that you can get a sense of her personality and her passion. -Ed.
It is year’s back, when I strongly got inspired to work with the children while I was still a child myself. I was eight when the 20 year war in Northern Uganda began. My family and I were tortured and displaced from our small village called Acholibur. My father had several arrests and each time he was arrested, he was badly beaten to the point of death. Our hearts were always so torn apart. Being a man, our father also got detained with so many others, who were all killed, but God spared him every time. This caused his legs to be paralyzed, till today.
We then fled to the refugee camps and it was there that I made so many friends. Realizing our vulnerability as children, I wanted someone to come and rescue us, but there was no one.
I then wondered whether God could guide me to make some difference in our own lives. During this time all schools were closed down, many young girls were raped and defiled, many children kidnapped and abducted. We would go hungry for days without food, in fear of being found getting food from our own gardens. We would sleep out in the bush in fear of camp attacks, many were bitten by snakes during the night, heavy rains hit us, and others still met these rebels in the bush and were killed.
At the age of ten, being someone so thirsty to serve my peers, I began to teach my friends about God and I would encourage these girls to boldly reject the elder men’s’ proposals for early marriage. All this happened under a “big mango tree” and as I think back, it brings tears to my eyes. But my consolation is that, it is so amazing how God used me at that early age and I must say it really worked out. The children had a change in their lives as a result. They had every reason to refuse to attend the “mango tree Sunday school” teaching!! Besides, I was just a young girl then. But God is so amazing, none of them rejected to come and we were such a huge population. It’s now that, I can see how great and good God is. He used me in my innocence to bring some change in the life of my fellow suffering friends
.
During this time, we started expanding our mission outside the “mango tree”. We would minister with our parents door to door within the refugee camp. As children from a traumatized community though, it’s now, that I can define what the problem was then. Many families had broken up and most children had been separated from their parents and were now on the streets. They would spend nights anywhere they wished and others were already involved in theft, prostitution and so on. We went and prayed with them, and I got so impressed, because so many of these street children got transformed as a result of this ministry. Many went back home and were reconciled with their parents, and we kept following them up till they settled into their homes. This made me feel that God could also strongly use me to do bigger things despite being a child.
The war then intensified and so many of these friends with whom we prayed did not survive. Some were massacred by the Rebels, others abducted and so on.
We continued fleeing. I went and joined my elder sister Jessica and her family where we were safe. She took care of us and put us back in school.
My heart remained behind because my parents and my friends had remained in the danger zone. This fills me with guilt to date, because I fled and left my friends who never made it.
Since my heart remained back at my roots, having experienced what it felt to be caught in the war, I kept praying that God would empower me to help my people some day at school, I always targeted a course that would help me go back and work better with the suffering people in the northern part of Uganda. I then decided to do social work and social administration, I later added counseling because the war has caused a huge untold level of trauma in people’s emotions, therefore they will need a lot of psychosocial support and that, I promise to offer as long as I live.
After my education
Immediately after my education, as promised, I went back to Northern Uganda. But this time, the rebel activities were more intense. Many from the other part of the country wondered why I was moving back to this region, given the security situation. I only told them that God will take care of me.
This seemed one of the worst times. The attacks were more frequent, many children were killed and others abducted. Thousands of children would walk long distances in search of safer places within the heart of the town, where the government soldiers guarded and so the rebels feared to reach.
Lots of risks rose as a result of such kind of sleeping because they slept at the shop verandas just mixed men, women and children. In the process many children were raped and tortured.
As if the above trauma and torture was not enough, the children traveled very long distances both mornings and evenings. Then later to school, most times without food, if any, then one meal a day which made most of them look so weak and vulnerable to diseases.
On seeing the above risks, we as volunteers wanted to see that a change is made. We advocated to the district that something must be done to make sure the children are separated from the big men who were taking the young girls at such risks of early pregnancies, HIV/aids exposure etc.
We decided to spend nights out with these children so that we could guard them from the rapists. This helped some, though these same risks were also experienced on the way to these sleeping places and besides, the children were so many and scattered, meaning the three of us only wouldn’t really monitor their safety so well.
Due to this demand some NGO’s started opening the night commuter centers which helped to safeguard the children from these risks because most of them restricted the age to 17yrs maximum. We sorted out these children and we allocated them to the different centers, out of the streets.
It didn’t take long, when I got employed by Medicines Sans Frontiers {msf swiss} in the night commuters’ center as a center counselor.
Here, it seemed like it was just the beginning of everything.
Over four thousand children came to this night commuter center every night. So scared, helpless, tired and most of them, so hungry. I was the only counselor to handle all these children every night.
It was a big challenge. Because all of them wanted me to at least listen to them, given the different problems at hand. Most of these children were so torn away from their parents, because they had very little time for each other. Since the parents would leave their sleeping places, and immediately try and search for something to eat for the children, they move from the night commuters centers, back and right away to school without seeing their parents and during the evenings, they leave school, and most times go straight to the centers. Because if they moved back home, it gets late and risky for them on the way since the rebels would also trap them on their ways when it gets late. That is why they would choose to go hungry, rather than get abducted on the way.
It wasn’t easy for me myself, to listen to all these heart breaking stories. Many times I could first lock up myself into the counseling room and weep, before I could go on again. It was so terrible seeing and listening to very heavy stories, from a baby. So young to even carry the burdens of life but they are already doing so.
During this time, I made individual and group counseling.
Through this, I was trying to lift these children back on their feet, but the situation here was so tricky. Reason being, it was very hard to terminate a session with these child. Their problems were always retriggered immediately they leave the center. Some of the perpetrators are the guardians, frustrated parents, and the rebels themselves. So I had to carry on with all the clients on board.
I then decided to design another method of work. I started working 24hrs day’s planed a day schedule from 8:00am-6:00pm and from here I moved direct to the night commuters’ center. During this time, I made follow ups and family/school monitoring. I also made door to door counseling to both the children and their family members affected by the war. This seemed to work, because then, I was available for them whole day and even all night from the center. All in all I thank God for the strength he gives me to serve the children. On my own, I know I could do nothing.
After a year, I moved to World Vision, though still worked with the same children, but this time under another organization. On top of that, I had more vulnerable children to deal with this time. The formerly abducted, others could have spent as long as ten years and above in abduction, has under gone a lot. For example: children who had killed several people including their own close relatives, psychological torture, like killing their own parents, cutting the stomach and removing her intestines, then it is rubbed all over ones body and one is forced to stay with it that way, for a week, in the name of initiation to wipe away all the fear and make one bold to freely kill as many people as possible. I think you can now imagine the level of trauma we had to fight out.
Within the community, I went ahead with the group method, here I was trying to reduce the stigmatization of the formerly abducted and former soldiers, enhance proper reintegration, through the kind of forgiveness we got from Christ, so unconditional!. We decided to mix these formerly abducted with the none formerly abducted so that we could give them a clear understanding of each other, and it’s the same them, who help us sensitize the community through music, dance and drama. Before this, the formerly abducted were rejected from the community, with a wrong perception that they are the ones who have caused all the suffering people are under going in the North. So this made many parents reject their own children, with the fear that the other community members will attack them. This provoked many of these formerly abducted to move back in the bush and join the rebels. With all the anger, they have been the worst in making serious vengeful attacks to these community members. But when the anti stigmatization campaigns went on, the community started understanding and now as I talk, it has really worked out well. We are still moving on with these sensitizations from camp to camp and the community response is really good, thus more corporation between the formerly abducted and community at large.
Well, that is what I’m still doing up to now. Though the government ordered that all the night commuter centers get closed, last Dec 15, 2006. And so now that the security was a bit calm compared to before, most of these children now sleep at home. Through some still went back in some verandas due to the fear of abduction and besides, most of these displaced families have limited space at home so the parents/guardians don’t fit in the small huts rented so the children are sent out to look for where to sleep.
When time had come for me to leave World Vision, because my contract with them had ended, I told myself that the end of this contract does not mean the end of my work. So I just continued to do the same kind of work with the children. Looking at their faces calling out for help, I really couldn’t let them go, because they are so precious to me. What I do with them, is so little, but they have made me understand that this little thing means a lot to them. Being there for them whenever they need me means a lot in their lives. And I thank God who still enables me to be around them.
As usual, God sees miles ahead of our sights. During this time we surely needed some support beyond what I was providing for the children, so I always shared this with friends so that we can pray for God’s provision, besides the counseling and follow up I’m doing. To my surprise, one day, an organization called ALARM came with a team that was ready to provide to the child headed house holds. I remember that day; I was just from visiting a child headed household. They are five at home, the eldest is 13yrs, she was so sick that day and so the family had spent some three days back without food, there wasn’t any drugs for her to take, so she was just waiting for anything to come her way. When i reached there, she felt so relived and was sure that as usual, I have either brought them food or some money for upkeep.
Unfortunately, I had nothing that day because I was so broke myself. On seeing the condition, I decided to rush home so that I could get them even the little I had, plus some medication. That is when God opened for us a way. I got this call that the child headed families will be supported in terms of school fees, meals and medical care and this money was already sent to my account. I just sat down in the middle of the road and wept with joy. Though this seemed just a drop in an ocean, but it means a lot in the heart of these few beneficiaries their lives are changed because of this and so many out here are still looking for the same.
Never did God stop here with his surprises, he went ahead and introduced me to someone so loving and caring to the chidren and that is a sister in Christ Cindy Cunningham.
She then came up with even a greater dream for these children, just like I did but I couldn’t afford at my level of course. This dream is that of a children’s’ home fully equipped with the basic needs like a school.
And this village is called “Village of Hope”
When she shared this idea with me, I felt it was God’s calling. And as I speak I’m already working for “Village of Hope”. I must confess I’m so glad that I can work to fulfill the children’s’ dream through Village of Hope, I pray God gives me more strength to make his will be done for the suffering children of Northern Uganda.
Many of these children were born within this war time and so they have never seen what a peaceful home is like!!!
They get surprised when they hear of a warless land, to them it’s strange and unrealistic all they know of is war, fights, fleeing, abductions, killing and seeing loved ones get killed, family separation and losing hope for any good, happening to them at all.
This gives a great opportunity to Village of Hope to operate and see to it that, this need is addressed by the grace of God I believe these children will see the other side of the coin. We will struggle and together fill this gap.
Our cry goes out to any heart that feels for these wounded children who lost their childhood, the same way we do, to come and join hands and together we will make the total healing in their lives. For it doesn’t take a millionaire to bring this transformation, because we serve a big, big God. Even the poorest is most welcome into this battle. Remember!!! A Thousand years from now, it won’t mater the expensive fancy cars we drove, the big mansions we occupied, the heavy bank accounts we owned, but many generations will know about the transformation you brought into the lives of these wounded children in Africa.
We need your continuous prayers! May God bless every reader.
Love from the very bottom of my heart and that of the children I work for they love you big— time.
We are all praying for you too.
May God bless you always.
Rose.

The place Rose mentions here, Village of Hope, has a clinic on its campus. The clinic is staffed by Nurse Susan and Dr. Mac and serves the roughly 200 orphaned children living at Village of Hope as well as children who attend school at Village of Hope and the staff members and their families. Nurse Susan and Dr. Mac provide care for complaints such as malaria, typhoid, syphilis, epilepsy, bacterial and fungal infections, coughs, allergies, asthma, abdominal complaints, and ulcers. Many of the children at the orphanage, and those served by the clinic, are suffering from major trauma, both physically and emotionally.

About 10 years ago, Wendy Bjurstrom of CompassioNow and Compassion Tea met Jessica, Rose’s older sister. Jessica shared with Wendy the plight of the children in northern Uganda in a way that touched Wendy’s heart. She began following Invisible Children’s efforts, and through Jessica and her work with ALARM, began supporting a child financially. Through these efforts, Wendy met Cindy Cunningham, founder of Village of Hope. Their paths continued to cross over the years and in early April Wendy brought the clinic at Village of Hope to the CompassioNow board of directors and asked that CompassioNow begin financially supporting the clinic. The clinic was approved and the first check has gone out!

CompassioNow now supports the work of rural clinics in 5 African countries: Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, South Africa, and Uganda. We are so excited about this addition! Ed and Wendy will be traveling to Uganda this year to ascertain first hand the needs of the clinic and to lend further support.

Village of Hope and its clinic are remote, about 60 miles from the nearest city and hospital. Therefore, the roughly 1000 residents of the surrounding area do not have easy access to quality health care. When asked if she would like to open the clinic up to more of the community, Village of Hope founder Cindy Cunningham responded, “That would be AWESOME!” It is our hope for Village of Hope’s clinic that, through your support of Compassion Tea and CompassioNow, one day the clinic will be able to serve the broader community. For now, we are thrilled to be helping the children at the orphanage and their caregivers. Thanks to you, we can!

It’s Magic!

ImageThe mind of my 5-year-old son is startling sometimes. In his world, it is okay to send chickens down the tree house slide and to ride the dog like a horse. He believes the duck he met at a pond 15 miles away is going to show up at our house someday and be his pet. Joseph has asked the house fairies to give him magic fairy dust so that he can open a portal in the TV so he can go and fight bad guys and he is pretty convinced we should be writing to Santa right now in order to get the gifts he is envisioning for Christmas. You see, Joseph invents toys in his mind, toys that are going to take Santa a lifetime to create, patent, and mainstream. Just last night, Joseph was insistent that I find him a submarine so that he can search for treasure at the bottom of the ocean. This was after he requested my help in making capes for three of his friends… “one white as snow for Chloe, one pink as a baby for Gracie, and one blue as the sky for Maggie.” Little Cassanova has asked repeatedly for a love potion, which I concocted from dried lavender, purple sugar crystals, and warm water. When he sprayed it on me, I pretended to be madly in love with him (which I am of course) but it doesn’t have quite the same effect on others. In fact, it had the opposite effect on his sister. Next potion on his list? A sleeping gas. “Mommy, do you know how to make any other potions besides love potions?” NOPE! “Fiddlesticks. I need a sleeping gas so I can …” and I got lost in the tale he wove of bad guys and good guys and fights and battles and portals and … I’m dizzy.

 

Potions, gases, portals, fairies … the world is very magical for my little guy. Someday, he’ll stop asking for potions, stop believing in fairies, stop asking Santa for presents because “reality” will settle over him. The bad guys he goes off to battle may be less sinister, more commonplace, your run-of-the-mill greedy, narcissistic co-worker, employer, or colleague. C’est la vie. (Excuse me while I wipe the tears away. As much as the world of make-believe drives me crazy, I will miss it when it’s done.)

 

There’s the magic of kids, the magic of innocence and imagination where situations and life challenges are played out in a safe environment. And there is magic, the kind that goes beyond illusion and imagination to dabbling in or full immersion in the occult. I was recently listening to Ed and Wendy Bjurstrom (CompassioNow founders and Compassion Tea directors) speaking on KKLA, a radio station in Los Angeles, about their work with the “least served” in Africa. They mentioned that among the difficulties they face in bringing successful medical care to rural peoples in Africa is the traditional, cultural practice of consulting the local shaman. In 2007, there were estimated to be as many as 200,000 indigenous traditional healers in South Africa compared to 25,000 Western-trained doctors. 60% of the South African population consults these traditional healers first or exclusively. I asked Wendy if this statistic holds true for the rest of Africa. Her response was affirmative for the countries CompassioNow works with.  In Zambia, for instance, there is a missionary to the Tonga people who states, “The Tonga culture is steeped in witchcraft, ancestral worship, and other occultic practices many of which form part of their traditions…. Traditional healers play an important role in health care. They normally take care of the ill with herbal and other plant remedies.”

 

The shamans of Africa follow centuries of traditional methods for treating illnesses. Many African cultures believe that ancestors from the spirit world guide, protect, or attack the living. Witchcraft, pollution from impure objects, or neglect of the ancestors are believed to be the three major causes of illness. Bringing harmony back between the living and the dead, the diseased and the harming spirits, is the primary job of the shaman. Herbal concoctions (muti), animal sacrifice, burning of incense, conjuring, throwing the bones, purification rituals, and ancestral channeling are all methods of restoring this balance and harmony, which will then alleviate the patient’s suffering.  Usually, the shaman undergoes some ritual or divination to speak to the spirit world to gain insight into the problem. In consultation with the spirit world and the patient, the shaman will come to a desired course of action, which may or may not include consulting Western medical practices.

 

There may be much to learn from these ancient traditions. According to a Wikipedia article titled “Traditional Healers of South Africa,” “Botanists and pharmaceutical scientists continue to study the ingredients of traditional medicines in use by [shaman].” However, there is also much concern about the old ways. While people are often “called” into the shaman “profession” by recovery from a serious illness and they subsequently undergo an intense initiation process, charlatans also abound. The missionary in Zambia notes that, “Many [of the traditional healers] require some form of payment and villagers live in fear of these healers because of their supernatural powers.” Wendy explains further that a shaman may tell a person “I’ll heal you” and will demand a cow or goat as payment. The shaman provides a medicine that doesn’t work. When the patient returns, he or she is told that if he or she stops taking the medicine (which isn’t working, remember), then he or she will be cursed. The patient must then provide payment for the curse to be lifted before the patient can stop taking the medicine. For further example, Wendy tells of a time a woman in Zambia went to her local shaman because of sores on her leg. The shaman prescribed a concoction of ash and rabbit hair. The concoction ended up giving the woman a horrible infection.

 

Shaman charlatans may not just be ineffective medical caregivers.  The Wikipedia article also notes that “Some [shamans] have been known to abuse the charismatic power they have over their patients by sexually assaulting them, sometimes dressed up as ritual.” Wendy recalls that the shamans offer help beyond medical care, too. It is common knowledge among the Tonga people that if a villager wants a fellow villager killed, he or she can go to the shaman who will give the villager a stick the size of a match to place in the water container of the intended victim. When the victim goes down to the lake to fetch water, the stick will turn into a crocodile and kill the person.

 

Despite the obviously occult nature of the shaman’s care, most rural Africans still turn to these “doctors” because of the lack of western medical care. The missionary in Zambia states, “Amazingly, there are many clinics built in the valley [near Lake Kariba in Zambia where the Tonga people live], but these are under-staffed and most have no medicines. Simple training in hygiene and first aid measures could prevent many illnesses.” In an article titled “Inside South Africa’s Rural Healthcare Crisis” posted on the Voice of America webpage, Dr. Thembinkosi Motlhabane of the Zithulele clinic in the Oliver Tambo region of South Africa explains that he doesn’t have the medical equipment and medicines to treat his most seriously ill patients. He has to wait for an ambulance from Mthatha, a larger medical facility 60 miles away, to come collect those patients. This could take hours, if the ambulance comes at all.  Liz Gatley, another doctor at Zithulele, comments, “(Our) patients struggle to access care, so they often only get to us when they are very, very sick…. I know it sounds like a silly thing to say but when doctors who come from other parts of the country come here, they comment to us on how sick our patients really are.” Ncedisa Paul, a local community health worker, said “many children in the countryside are killed by diseases that are easily treated in more resource-rich areas – again because of the great distances involved in accessing healthcare, and lack of clean water.” 

 

 The Voice of America article goes on to state:

Disease rates, as well as numbers of deaths, spike when rural public healthcare facilities run out of medicines and other essentials and the government fails to deliver important medical equipment. “We’ve run out of TB treatment; we’ve run out of antibiotics,” said Gatley. “It’s happened that we were down to one or two IV (intravenous) antibiotics, which is ridiculous.” 

She said hospitals and clinics endure regular shortages of the “most basic” of medical apparatus. “We’ve run out of surgical gloves. We’ve run out of oxygen many times before… Sometimes it means people die.”

Gatley said public health workers order basic supplies from the government, but they never arrive. “So now we buy all our stationery ourselves, like printing paper, which we need for data sheets, and our whiteboard markers and so on,” said Shannon Morgan, an occupational therapist at Zithulele hospital. “I run a department on donations and self-bought materials. We use our own cars and petrol to visit patients who are too disabled to come here.” 

Health workers claim South Africa’s public healthcare system, especially in the more isolated districts, is characterized by bad management, administrative inefficiency and poor planning.

 

These are exactly the same situations that CompassioNow hears regularly from the clinics it helps, exactly the same situations it strives to prevent through its donation of medical supplies and pharmaceuticals to those clinics. It often feels like an uphill battle. But it is essential to keep trying, because the places our clinics serve are seeing greater and greater numbers of lives saved.

 

Wendy poses this dilemma:  “What do you do when you are 5 hours by bicycle from the nearest medical clinic and your child is bitten by a snake? The villagers will tell you to take your child to the shaman because just last week the shaman healed a child that was bitten by one. If you decide to go the Western medical route, you set off on the 5-hour bike ride, and your child dies while you are trying to get help. When you get back to the village, the people will say, ‘Cursed are you! You should have gone to the shaman!’” This goes beyond the love potions and sleeping gases of a boy in the throes of childish magic. This is a matter of life and death.

 

Every Life Is Beautiful

I was giddy! The last movie I saw in the middle of the day, alas not a kid’s movie, had to have been Ocean’s Eleven… in Amsterdam. That was eons ago. Going yesterday left me feeling a mixture of elation and shame… kind of like Ferris Buehler must have felt on his famous day off. I was going to meet a friend to see October Baby. Thankfully and humorously my friend brought a box of Kleenex along. She knows me well.
The movie is about a 19 year old young lady who is told finally the secret behind her mysterious illnesses… the epilepsy, the asthma, the hip surgeries. She was born at 24 weeks… after a failed abortion attempt. She was a twin and her brother, whose arm had been ripped off during the abortion attempt, died after a four month struggle in the NICU. Hannah, the young lady who survives and is adopted immediately after birth, handles this news with the proper hysterics and heads off on a road trip to find out “who she is.”
Watching the movie, I felt sympathy for Hannah. Certain of her emotions resonated with me. But I felt even more sympathy for the birth mom and for the adoptive dad. John Schneider (think back to the Dukes of Hazard!) plays the dad… a surgeon whose communication skills are reduced to angry orders by his own conflicting emotions. Trapped by his own larger-than-life emotions over the history that led him and his wife to adopt Hannah and her twin brother, the trauma of losing the little boy, and the 19 ensuing years of loving and never wanting to let go of his precious gift, he can’t communicate effectively his love for his daughter. But that love is immense and it ultimately leads him to listen and respond to Hannah in a way that she can hear and accept. And the birth mother. What a secret to harbor for so long. Faced with it suddenly one day, one feels for the rip in her soul as she struggles to decide whether to accept or push aside the past. Hannah leaves her a note that reads, “I forgive you.” It is that note that allows the birth mother to face the past, share it with her husband, and begin to heal. Forgiveness is such a powerful thing.
At the end of the movie, a phrase is flashed across the screen… “every life is beautiful.” I know the purpose of that statement is to primarily remind us that even those lives not yet realized, not yet breathing outside the womb, are beautiful too. But the movie served to remind me of the great beauty of every life. From the priest in the cathedral to the police officer who arrests Hannah for breaking and entering, from the nurse who left nursing because of the guilt she felt at participating in so many abortions to the birth mother, everyone has a story often marked with the ugly and the sinful and the shameful. Everyone. But those lives are beautiful nonetheless, in spite of the ugly. It’s kind of like the message in the Disney animated favorite, Ratatouille… anyone can cook… even a rat.
I spent time with Uncle Lee and Aunt Anne this past weekend doing lots of Compassion Tea things. We spent a lot of time living out Compassion Tea’s mission… “inspiring compassion through sharing tea.” Said another way, we spent a lot of time drinking tea and telling stories. Having never been to Africa myself, I did a lot of listening, as I usually do when I get together with the Compassion Tea team. The stories they have of people in Africa are shocking, overwhelming, eye-opening, and life-changing. Like the story of Lee watching a group of children playing. One little boy wandered off suddenly, obviously disoriented and unwell. Lee asked the nurse what was going on. “Oh,” she replied, “that child is in the last stages of AIDS. He probably won’t last must longer.” Or the story of Waddington which I’ve shared before. I don’t think I realized before that he had gone 3 months before his broken leg was attended too. No wonder it was severely infected and painful. Or poor 3 year old Yohanna who may or may not still be alive after he was treated for malaria at the Tanzania Christian Clinic. We don’t know if he has succumbed to malnutrition or if his grandmother has been able to procure a source of food for him. Or the story of the woman Anne and Chris Faherty (another Compassion Tea founder) saw in the hospital in Sinazongway, Zambia. Hospital is a term Anne used loosely. You see, in Africa, most rural hospitals are staffed only Monday through Friday. The patients are left to fend for themselves over the weekend. Families provide any food they can as the hospitals don’t have cafeterias (let alone clean sheets, sterile environments, or any of the comforts of an American hospital). Anne and Chris visited such a hospital over a weekend and saw a woman there who was extremely bloated, yellow, dehydrated, and suffering greatly. The nurse they were with (from an organization not affiliated with the hospital) was able to help the woman by starting an IV of necessary fluids to help her body purge the toxins inside. Had they not come along, the woman would have died that weekend… in the hospital… untended.
Each of these lives is so beautiful and so precious. You know, here in the States, we get pretty hung up on the rights of people… a woman’s right to abortion or to subsidized contraception, a person’s right to affordable/subsidized health care. We can argue day and night, night and day about whether it is a person’s responsibility to control his or her desires, own up to his or her “mistakes” when another’s life is on the line, or whether we should expect the government to mandate and redistribute and engineer our lives for us. But as Lee said this weekend, the person with the least here in the States still has more than the people in the bush in Africa. We are still waiting for big answers to the problems in Africa, but in the meantime, there are things we can do NOW to bring compassion to those beautiful lives. That’s at the heart of the Compassion Tea mission. We drink tea so that we can support the work of those in Africa who are helping to sustain those beautiful lives. It is little, but a little compassion can go a long way.

May The Force Be With You!

Star Wars… it’s the name of Joseph’s new fish, the kind of valentine cards and decorations we’ve chosen this year, the game we play. Light-sabers, ships, and plots to overthrow the Dark Side abound at our house. We have even taken to referencing each other as “young Jedi” or “master.” We have completely succumbed to the epic battle created by George Lucas… a battle that began when I was a child, that has been waging for decades, that garnered further following in the early 2000’s with the release of the first three movies in the series, and that has now taken over Legos, certain cartoon stations, and is about to be released in 3D. The battle between the use of the Force for good and the Dark Side is archetypal and resonates with our very souls.
A couple of days ago, the kids and I spent the afternoon watching episode three… a.k.a. the one where Anakin Skywalker turns away from his Jedi training, embraces the Dark Side, becomes a Sith Lord, and is henceforth known as Darth Vader. It has been the missing puzzle piece for me… the one movie in the six series extravaganza that I have missed seeing. While watching, I was struck by a conversation between Chancellor Palpatine and Anakin. Anakin describes the Jedi as using the Force for the good of others, selflessly, while the Sith use the Force for their own gain, turning inward and seeking their own expansion of power. The Sith rely on the passions of their emotions to strengthen their powers while the Jedi master their emotions, instead becoming deeply attuned to the Force and those around them. This conversation was precluded by a conversation between Yoda and Anakin. Anakin is distressed about the idea of losing Padme, his wife, and goes to Yoda to discover what, if anything, can be done to prevent her death. Yoda explains to him that one must be careful of one’s emotions, that fear of losing a loved one is a form of ownership, a form of greed, and therefore a slippery slope toward the Dark Side. Yoda instead explains in his backward way that one should rejoice when a loved one passes into oneness with the Force.
I think my ears perked up here because of experiences I’ve had this past week. Last Monday night, I was so moved by a friend’s testimony that I cried the whole way home from church for the pain she had been through and for the release she was finding through Christ. On Saturday, I learned that the 5 year old boy for whom we’d been praying for the past 18 months had succumbed to his battle with cancer. Reading his mother’s blog Sunday morning was emotionally gut-wrenching. Her faith in God, her surety that Logan was healed and in Heaven, her testimony that the Devil had been assaulting Logan for long enough and God had been with them through all of this and had now pulled the final, battle-ending, strategic move left me in awe and in emotional tatters. Throughout my life, I’ve been a crier. As a young child, I couldn’t watch “Little House on the Prairie” without being moved to tears by something in the show. This overactive water works display on my part is a mixture of curse (it’s so embarrassing sometimes) and blessing because I think I get what people feel. My friend and fellow Compassion Tea-er, Wendy Bjurstrom, just shared with me a definition of compassion she learned from Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church. According to this definition, the way I feel for others is compassion. Compassion, so goes the definition, is hurting so much for another that you will do anything to help them.
Compassion is the Jedi way. It’s the ability to look past self at the needs and concerns of another and to act accordingly. There is no “me” in compassion. It makes me think of two women I have yet to meet and yet for whom I have the utmost respect. Sister Marta is a Polish nun who is running the Chalabesa Mission Hospital in Zambia and Dawn Faith Leppan founded the 1000 Hills Community Helpers Clinic in South Africa. Both women work tirelessly to treat the medical and nutritional needs of those around them… often handicapped by a lack of supplies or water or staff or electricity or medicines. The stories they share of treating over 240 patients one day or of orphaned children discovered huddled in a hut without food or blankets or relatives or of rushing to save a life and then lacking the right equipment and medicines to do so are heart-wrenching. But they don’t give up. Dawn faithfully serves over 1500 people a day through her kitchen, operates a day care and school for over 250 children, manages a medical clinic that serves an average of 200 people per day, and provides classes in English, parenting, and even self-esteem. Sister Marta coordinates with Mission Medic Air to provide the medical care for people 10 to 20 kilometers away, often has to organize bucket brigades to supply water to her clinic, and keeps the clinic open even in the dark to help those who have walked a full day to find medical care. Tirelessly, compassionately, selflessly.
I read their emails and newsletters and agonize over the pain hidden inside, over the desperate pleas to not be forgotten and to be aided in any way possible. It makes me yearn to rush to their aid. But you know, for now, God has given me a different purpose. And the best way I can help is to support Compassion Tea. My monthly membership provides, on a monthly basis, medical supplies, medicines, staff support to these women and their operations. Each cup of tea I drink is a medicine for a child striken with malaria or a mother suffering from HIV/AIDS or a father trying to provide even while crippled by a broken bone not set properly. It has taken me several days to write this blog… and consequently I have consumed several pots of tea. Can you imagine the aid I have single-handedly supplied! And because Compassion Tea is so delicious, it feels like a luxury to aid in this way. But the basis behind Compassion Tea is the same as what drives Sister Marta and Ms. Leppan… because the founders of Compassion Tea felt and feel so profoundly the hurt of others they are willing to do anything to help. Tirelessly, compassionately, selflessly.
If only a light-saber would help.