Sunday, May 30, 2010

Do Not Fear

"Do not Fear." This is the most frequently given command in the Bible - Used over 200 times. God knew we would be cowards. Choosing to run. Choosing the safe path. Choosing to just avoid getting out of the boat. At times fear is good in that it does keep us safe. Mostly, I think fear is Satan's weapon in keeping us from living meaningful lives.

I've never been big on New Year's resolutions. Perhaps better stated, I've never been big on keeping New Year's resolutions. This past January my resolution was to stop dreaming and start doing. Having reached the age of 50, I recognized that it really was time for me to get out of the boat. Having just reread If You Want To Walk On Water You Have To Get Out Of The Boat over the holidays I had the strongest sense that life had to have more to it than selling medical devices. As both a Christian and a  nurse, I constantly wondered how I had ended up on that path. What made this resolution or decision different was that I prayed about it, committing it to God.

In my wildest imagination I never would have pictured that within three weeks of making that resolution, and really opening myself up to His will for the first time in life, that I would be working in Haiti helping deal with the aftermath of a tragic earthquake. Seeing true desperation. Seeing unbearable loss. Seeing unimaginable poverty and devastation. But most important, seeing God use me and others to care for His children in powerful ways I had never dreamed possible.

These past five months in Haiti have taught me more about God and His power than anything in the previous fifty years combined. My biggest lesson: If I just say yes to Him, He really will take control and take care of me. Scary? Unbelievably so. Do Not Fear. This is my daily struggle. Fear. Fear of what this mission is doing to relationships at home. Fear of financial difficulties. Fear that people think I am irresponsible for listening to God's voice.

This has been my longest visit home since I started working in Haiti. While the comforts are so alluring, I know in my heart this isn't where God wants me to be. Maybe another of Satan's weapons are comfort. When we're riding in a plush comfortable boat, who in their right mind would want to step out of it? Do Not Fear.

I am convicted that any desire to give up and stay home is based on fear. Giving up possessions is scary. Do Not Fear.  I've sold a lot of possessions to be able to keep working in Haiti. The funny thing is I haven't missed one of them even once. In looking at my life, I still have so many other possessions that can go just as easily and never be missed.

The relationships are really scary. Do Not Fear.  I have a lovely wife and four great kids at home, two are out of school, one is in college, and a fifteen year old daughter who is still at home. We all miss each other desperately when I'm gone. I hope that by living life for God, really saying yes to Him and allowing Him to use me as He sees fit, I am being a better husband and father than if I were at home all the time earning a million dollars a year. Scary? Absolutely. Do Not Fear.

Working in Haiti, I have seen God physically work in my life and lives of others in ways I never imagined possible. This has led me to question many of the beliefs I had about the power of the Holy Spirit and His abilities. I have really seen miraculous things. These are not things the church I grew up in really taught or believed. In this way and others my whole religious belief system has been turned inside out over the past five months. Do Not Fear. The reality is that I have a closer and more intimate relationship with my Father than ever before in my life and am beginning to recognize and be amazed by His incredible power.

A common question I have heard this visit home is "are you going back?". While I respond with the date of my next trip, in my heart I'm screaming, "how can I not go back?". Having seen the unimaginable along with the miraculous from the comforts of my previous life, to not go back would be no different than Peter's denials after Jesus' arrest. I have seen God's power at work. I would be more afraid to deny that than succumb to all the fears at home combined.

God is in control. God will provide our daily bread. God is active and working in our lives and world. Having come to see and recognize this, it gets easier to obey the command Do Not Fear. As I grow closer to God, I am beginning to see it not so much as a command, but more of a comfort. I am starting to hear it more as "don't be afraid, I've got your back".

He does. Do Not Fear

Grace and peace,

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Haiti - Contrasts

So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.
Revelations 3:16

I recently posted a status update on Facebook that read: "I am amazed at what our country, made up entirely of immigrants, has been able to accomplish in just over 200 years". What I didn't say was how I had taken practically all of the luxuries that come with living in the United States for granted prior to spending the past few months in Haiti.

Haiti, like the US, has also enjoyed their independence for a little over 200 years. But my goodness, what a stark contrast. I have always left out the worst things I see in Haiti when posting these blogs. After reading the following in today's news after more protests in Port Au Prince yesterday, I think that glossing things over may not be needed.

"At least one person was killed near the protest, but it was not immediately clear if he was participating in the march. Police spokesman Frantz Lerebours said the victim was a suspected thief killed by a mob. The young man’s lifeless body lay unattended in a street near the former national cathedral, his head cracked open."

I have seen this and worse right in front of me in Haiti. Haitians are very protective of their families and belongings. With a virtually non-present police force, they quickly take a very swift and harsh justice in their own hands. Kidnappings are on the rise, food is growing scarcer, and political tensions are growing. The biggest news in Cap-Haitien the week before I left was that a new zombie had been made in Terrier Rouge, a nearby village, earlier in the week. This really does still go on there. We also still have cold showers. In Haiti, it is good to just have a shower.

As I sat in church, here at home Sunday, the starkest contrast of all was driven home. Due to the luxuries we enjoy, our dependence on God doesn't compare that of Haitian Christians. As I listened to the words we sang, I was amazed that the whole room wasn't on their feet, awash with tears, awed by the words we were singing, as we sang  "How Deep The Father's Love For Us" and other songs like it.

A lot of Christian Haitians attend church every night of the week along with Sunday mornings. Concrete floors. No concern for decor. Cell phones in the air when the power goes out. Buildings packed with people - far past standing room only. Worshipers on their feet the entire service, arms outstretched to God, tears streaming. Desperation. I am convinced that physical desperation leads to a much greater dependence on God. He is literally Haiti's only hope.

The truth is, here in the US - Despite our luxuries, God is our only hope as well.

God: Please make us a desperate people for you. Amen.

Grace and peace,

One of my dearest readers, who is very familiar with Haiti, suggested that I expand on the zombie thing a little. This is a very real phenomenon - And a capital crime in Haiti. The Hougan or Mambo, male or female voodoo priest poisons a person causing a low enough metabolic state that it mimics death. Apparently, toxin from the Puffer fish is one of the key ingredients. After the victim enters this state, the Hougan or Mambo has 3 to 4 days to revive them. This coincides with the Haitian wake process. The night the person is buried, they are dug up by the poisoner and revived to a mental zombie like state with other potions. While a zombie they are then under the control of their owner.
There are quite a few documented cases of people being reunited with their families years after having this done to them. Some had even been declared dead by first world doctors at the time they were originally buried. Very scary stuff that I think we tend to think just happens in movies - Not something happening in today's world.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Home again, home again...

I needed to travel home from Haiti a week early to help my wife with some things. Thankfully, through the support of friends from Delta Airlines, this was able to happen quickly - Thanks Mike and David!

I have really been struggling with this blog. It seems that in so many ways it is just bringing glory to me and my works - In reality the glory belongs to God, and the courage of the common Haitian people. I am praying and thinking about how best to deal with this. My 1st thought is to go with more of a quarterly newsletter. In all truthfulness, a lot of the motive for writing this is to assist with raising funds to support the work in Haiti. I am convicted that by doing good works in Haiti, with the primary focus of sharing God's love, everything else will fall in place.

I am also working at developing a better balance between my home life and the work in Haiti. Events over the past couple of weeks, along with numerous financial obligations at home, have made it painfully clear that I have been giving love and time to Haiti, that my family has a right to as well. I'm not stopping the work by any means; I am seeking ways to better balance saying "yes" to God, and honoring my obligations and commitments at home. I would really appreciate your prayers as I try to discern God's will in my life.

I will be returning to Haiti on June 8th for 3 weeks. We have several small teams coming during that time that will provide much needed care for the Haitian people.

Grace and peace,

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Being Reminded To Just Say Yes

If you haven't listened to "Praise Him In The Storm" by Casting Crowns in a while, please do it. It has kept me going a lot this week. Seems like virtually every plan I made was nixed or fell through. What a great reminder of Who is really in charge. I needed it.

Instead of traveling to Port as planned, I'm in Au Cap for at least a few more days. But in those few days - after having Port trip pulled from under me - The government hospital asked if they could send specialty Residents to learn from our surgeons at l'Hopital St. Francois De Sales when various surgeons are doing cases here. As one of the main things God has me here to do is to "help Haitians help other Haitians", this dovetails so perfectly with the mission. I will be in Au Cap at least until Wednesday helping coordinate this.

I guess it is easy to become jaded when surrounded by so much corruption and become quick to judge. This happened in reference to an American team sending valuable medicines to a very good and honest Haitian doctor. Who unfortunately shares a similar sounding last name with a doctor that I have had less then desirable dealings with. I messed up. I labeled the good doctor, based on my experience with the bad doctor. Fortunately we were able to meet, forgive, and make great plans to work together in the future. Once again, God seems to be playing with clay sometimes. Even in infallibility, He brings about good.

It has been a very busy week. Dr. Visani did prostate surgeries at the government hospital 2 days, and surgeries here the remainder of the week. Many Haitians have been blessed by your prayers and encouragement this week.

Grace and peace,

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Three Earthquake Orphans

Religion that God, our Papa accepts as pure and faultless is this, to look after the orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
 James 1: 27

We were blessed with a safe, but chaotic return from the DR to Haiti yesterday. We had so many patients waiting our return, I felt guilty for being away. Sandro is busier than ever in the OR, I am very busy working with scheduling cases, arranging medical teams for June and early July, distributing health care supplies to other hospitals and clinics, and making travel arrangements to visit the vacant hospital in Port.

Amidst all of this, I have had an incredible urge over the past few days to read and meditate on the first 2 chapters of James. As God's Spirit reveals more and more of the truths in this passage, I am amazed at how much it applies to the work here in Haiti. I had a lot of problems reconciling the whole faith/works thing with Grace for many years. I have come to a much better understanding and acceptance of it through my work here in Haiti, and then being Spirit led to read and think on this passage.

My prayer today is that each one that reads this, will ask God to provide wisdom and understanding, then read these 2 powerful chapters in James. I am convinced that they will change lives. As churches, I pray that James 1:27 can be read, understood, and applied. It is so easy to stray from this with all of the pulls of the world/Satan. In reality, God makes it pretty easy for us.

I am neither a preacher nor a teacher - Just a poor guy with some medical knowledge and skills trying to make a difference in the world while glorifying God, and showing people that God loved them enough that He sent Jesus to die for us so we could be His. You just have to believe - Really believe - My family is living proof that He will take care of the rest.

Grace and peace,

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Piti Piti N'Arive - Little By Little We Get There

The above Haitian proverb is so appropriate for virtually any work in Haiti. Haiti's problems, much like the challenges and overweight person faces, did not appear overnight. In the same way, solutions, progress, reform, and healing are very much a continuum. How do you explain the street children that spurn a warm bed in a children's home for a life on the streets? How else can you explain the culture's complacency to the corruption and resulting oppression they face each waking moment? Perhaps worst of all; how do you explain their complete acceptance of living in such desperate - even intolerable conditions? They truly see each minuscule sign of progress as truth of the proverb.

This was brought home very hard this week with the death of a man as I previously wrote about - Then just through accepted medical practice, we were able to save the life of the next asthma victim,who was in even worse condition. For the Haitian doctors, it bordered on the miraculous. In reality it was simply practicing good medicine; with God's blessings. Perhaps of most importance, was having the opportunity to teach the Haitian doctors how to use the right drugs, in the right amounts, at the right times to reverse the acute asthma attacks. Unfortunately, aerosolized Albuterol is not available to dispense in the North of Haiti, which could so easily prevent many of these attacks from occurring in the first place. Still, I am convinced that this is why God placed L'Hopital St. Francois de Sales in the middle of nowhere. Without it, these people would have no other options when death knocks on their door.

God allowed some amazing progress in our work this week. While Dr. Ken White and his team were visiting from Wilmington, NC, we were doing so many surgeries that we began to run low on our inhalation anesthesia drugs. This was critical as these can not be purchased in Haiti. We visited a friend of mine, Dr. Ernst Jazzmin who is the Director of Health for the Nord region of Haiti. We explained our dilemma - and offered to donate an anesthesia monitor that their team had brought with them. He made a couple of phone calls, wrote us a note, and we were on our way to the government hospital to pick up more medicine than we needed. While there, we were able to make friends with Dr. Marie-Carmelle S. Laconte, who is in charge of the operating room. After the NC had left, we still had several cases requiring general anesthesia: But no anesthetist. I again visited Dr Laconte, who happily loaned me a very capable anesthesia resident along with a nurse training for anesthesia - At no charge! If you don't understand the Haitian culture, there is no way to explain what an incredible breakthrough this is. Additionally, Dr. Laconte arranged for my currently visiting urologist, Dr. Sandro Visani, to use their operating room to perform numerous prostatectomies for which we are not equipped at St. Francois de Sales. Only God can foster this unheard of cooperation between Haitian government hospitals and a "competing" private hospital. After spending the first few months in Haiti I would never have thought something like this could occur. Piti, piti n'arive!

We were able to travel to the DR for the weekend to enjoy a hot shower, air conditioning, and electricity. Even though it is an absolute Caribbean paradise outside my door, I have rarely left my room. I am getting a lot of much needed rest and prayer time alone. I did go out to relax in the hot tub yesterday evening, and was surprised to hear the couple there speaking Kreyol Haitian. As we struck up a conversation, I learned that the Husband, Peterson, studied electrical engineering and administration in the DR, and was one of the very few who chose to return to Port Au Prince after completing his education. As I talked about the vacant hospital there that I am scheduled to visit this week in hopes of opening, he said he has 4 friends that are US trained physicians in Port that don't currently have a hospital to practice at due to the earthquake's devastation. Something tells me God is about to make me tremble again - In fact the trembling began as he expressed the desperation for care that currently exists in Port, and the hope that we can open the hospital. He and his wife who are both Christians volunteered to do anything possible to assist with the effort. They tell me there is currently one large hospital serving all of Port Au Prince. A simple lab test or X-Ray requires standing in line for a full day.

Throughout Haiti you see men manually pulling massively overloaded carts. Eyes glazed with fatigue, yet sheer determination flowing from them. Muscles bulging and straining. Wheels and axles creaking. It is a heartbreaking sight. It so reminds me of how Jesus must have looked when carrying His own cross. As I pick up my cross daily here in Haiti, it is so reassuring to know beyond any doubt that He is guiding me, and the He is putting the people, relationships, and facilities in place that will allow Him to use us to serve His people. All glory to God.
Grace and peace,  Randy