I took this picture a lifetime ago. I was so struck by Caleb's trust in Mike as he brought that noisy buzzer so close to cut his hair. He just kept his focus on his dad's face. It still gets me right in the throat. If only I could do that as an adult. Just keep looking at Jesus' face no matter what noisy, chaotic instrument is coming so close to my face....alright, I might be hanging onto the hair buzzer parallel too hard. But you know what I mean.
Speaking of trust, we are having to travel back to the states urgently for Caleb to have surgery on his eye. I think most of you know that Caleb has had a problem with his eye since he was born. We starting patching his eye and doing daily exercises before his first birthday and have continued until now. We are so grateful that he's done so well for so long without having to do any invasive procedures. As we've been monitoring the progress of his eyes, its become clear that its time for surgery. We are grateful for the help and counsel we've received from friends and colleagues near and far. Many people in the world don't have the resources to travel to another country for medical treatment. Or they don't 'know a guy' that has the specific training that is needed (Thank you so much, Ben and Georg!) We are so blessed to have both. We are planning for surgery, recovery, some time with family and supporting churches, and then back to Tenwek later this year.
The Lord has carried us through so many things as a family, especially this last year. But our prayer is that this would be the time that both our kids would learn to lean on the Lord for themselves. Caleb has understandable been emotional and upset when he remembers that he needs surgery. But he did tell us the other morning that he woke up twice during the night and prayed to tell Jesus how scared he was. If that is what comes out of this situation, we will be satisfied. Eden too is struggling. This means that she can't finish out the school year with her friends or her teacher. And she has to leave her beloved pets behind. Abrupt changes are not her favorite. But we are praying she will find her peace and stability in the steadfastness of the Lord. And for us as parents, we are praying that we can keep our eyes fixed on Jesus' face, no matter what chaotic, noisy instruments are coming near. Knowing that Jesus is a good, good Father. Loving and Gentle. Faithful and Steadfast.
I know so, so very many have suffered loss and abrupt changes this past year. I was reading another blog post that described it as "being in the ring for a few rounds already." Yes. That's exactly what it feels like. We are clinging to these verses and pray you would be encouraged by them also.
"Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
2 Corinthians 4:16-18
Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,
which cannot be shaken but endures forever.
As the mountains surround Jerusalem,
so the Lord surrounds his people both now and forevermore.
We had our first Tabitha Bible Study meeting this month since corona separated all of us in March. It was so nice to be together. I thought it would be explosive and exuberant...but I think we all are still figuring out what the new normal is. We'll get there. Together.
We each shared ways that the Lord has been faithful to us as we've been apart. So many stories of God's goodness and compassion during such a hard time. I shared with them that the Lord stood with us when Mike had to have his back surgery. When they realized what Mike had been through, they wanted to come back and be with us just to hear about it and thank the Lord together. As Americans, its easy to think, we're together now, let's just talk about it now. But that's one of the most beautiful parts of Kenyan culture. This purposeful being together.
So, this week on Tuesday afternoon, many of the leaders came to visit, encourage us and hear about Mike's health. It was uncomfortable to think that they were coming all this way just to see us. One of the women traveled three hours on the back of a motorbike one way. Another woman traveled two hours. Each one's coming came with a sacrifice. And we were so humbled and grateful.
Mercy shared Psalm 125:1-2 with us and it has been going over and over in my mind ever since. She kept saying how grateful she was that the Lord surrounded us. And He is still surrounding us. Things are still hard here. And everywhere. But the Lord really does surround those who trust in Him. I'm not sure who else needs to hear this today. But I do. And I wanted to share it for whoever else needs to be reminded of this truth.
Not only did they come with words of encouragement, but each woman brought a gift. Sugar. Pineapple. Pumpkins. Beans. Eggs. There really are just no words.
Some quick stories of our life here at Tenwek...
A few years ago I applied to KidsOR for brand new pediatric surgery equipment. It took several hours to write the grant request and a visiting pediatric surgeon (Dr Iocono) took care of the clinical work while I typed away at my desk - Thanks Joe!
Several challenges including COVID delayed the arrival of the shipment. But a few weeks ago a 20 foot container arrived at Tenwek full of equipment. I am so excited to start using the new gear (cause I'm a gear freak) and to continue to improve the quality of the care we offer to our community's children.
After returning to Kenya 5 years ago, I have finally been able to begin training pediatric surgeons at Tenwek. So far two fellows have completed rotations with me away from their program at Kijabe Hospital three hours away.
Dr Alain Ndibanje spent two months working with me prior to graduating and returning home to Rwanda last month. He is the second PS in his country.
Dr Yves Mpongo spent 6 weeks with me prior to my back surgery in August. Hopefully he will return next year for another rotation prior to graduating. Dr Mpongo was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, married a wonderful woman from Cameroon, completed general surgery training in Niger, worked as a general surgeon in Burundi and is now halfway through his PS training in Kenya. He and his wife Shakina continue to pray about where they will serve.
We thank God that none of the Tabitha women have been diagnosed with COVID despite community spread in our area.
After months of avoiding gathering in large groups as per government direction, our home was blessed with 20 leaders yesterday. It was so good to see their faces again.
Pray with Tabitha as they, along with everyone around the globe, struggle to address the issues of COVID with wisdom and grace.
Back to school!
Caleb is so excited to be in first grade. With his big sister enjoying the blessing of a school teacher in another location, he gets to use the "classroom" in our house.
Eden has one classmate in sixth grade this year and also has been able to do an online Spanish class. It's exciting for us to watch her grow.
It's been five weeks since the operation on my spine. I tried to go back to work last week but found it was too early. I'm doing well at home again and plan to return to work next week. A bit of time and some more physical therapy seem to be sufficient. I remain incredibly grateful for how God has provided.
There are times when Tenwek feels separated from the rest of the world and the goings on we see on facebook. This is not one of those times. We are all going through so much of the same things right now....strange, strange things.
Since the international flights have stopped, a number of missionary families have left on embassy chartered flights back to the US. On our compound alone we have prayed with and waved off six families so far. It keeps reminding me of the story of Gideon who kept looking at the decreasing numbers of warriors that were getting ready for battle. Not to be too dramatic...but corona can feel like a battle, am I right?
Just this past week, COVID has finally reached our hospital. We are glad that we have had months to prepare and a few false alarms that helped to work out the kinks. As our CEO, Shem Tangus, wrote this past week, "The temptation to be afraid is certainly there. In our human strength, we will surely fail. However, we trust that God is bigger than our fears. God is more powerful than a virus. In our weakness, He is made strong. We trust that we will continue to treat and it is Jesus who heals. This is our chance to show others how we trust in a God who loves us and loves them. Let us rise to that occasion." We are praying that this would be a time when many turn to Jesus. And those who know Him would dig down deep and be made more like Him in this process.
On a different note, do you remember when we did some COVID training with our Tabitha leaders where they learned about making soap was using tippy taps to be able to wash hands without running water? Peris and I have gone to four different leaders' homes in the past couple of weeks to follow up with them, see their faces and find out how they are being affected during the pandemic. We heard stories of grief and loss, stories of hope and victory and above all stories of God's faithfulness. As we talked we learned that they have passed on what they learned and 28 women are now making hand soap and selling it for income!!! It was so encouraging to see that we all serve The God Who Sees us, each one, and knows us by name. What a gift it is to see the Lord working wonderfully in very hard circumstances.
We simply want to say thank you so much - which is what "asante sana" means in Swahili.
After sharing briefly our need for oxygen with the anticipated COVID-19 influx of patients, people generously gave around $10,000 toward the $123,000 oxygen concentrator which we now have on site. This has doubled our daily production of oxygen to use in the hospital or to share with surrounding facilities by using tanks.
So thank you to those of you who have given to Tenwek and/or prayed for our community here. We and our neighbors are very grateful.
Our love from rural Kenya
Mike, Julie, Eden and Caleb
This tippy tap makes hand washing hands-free!!
The staff working at Tenwek Community Health and Development is really a top notch team - cream of the crop. Seriously. Since the news has been spreading about COVID-19, they have been working tirelessly to get the word into the community about handwashing and social distancing. I love what they do and how they do it. I’m always so proud to be associated with them - even in the smallest way.
Since our Tabitha Bible study groups can’t be meeting at this time, I asked a friend, Emmy Rotich, in TCHD how she thought we could reach the ladies with encouragement and the information they would need to be able to care for their families during this crisis. She suggested we ask the ladies to come a few at a time, keeping distance, and talk through how to set up a tippy tap for hand washing without running water, how to make 20L of soap for $8 and how to use a mask safely since it is now required by law that everyone outside their home wear one.
Hannah (yellow skirt) taught how to make 20L of liquid soap for $8.
Peris, Linda and I set this past Wednesday for the first group to come. It was so, so, so good for my soul to see these ladies faces!! We talked and encouraged one another and prayed together. I had been looking forward to this day since we had started talking about it.
But as the afternoon wore on, I started to realize how little margin some women have, and how many family members are all staying together in one space. I almost felt a little panicked at the thought. Peris encouraged me that the same Lord who has always been faithful is still faithful now. Each woman has stories of God’s faithfulness in hard times. And the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases and His mercies never come to an end.
I am looking forward to a time when we all come together - each with our own stories of God’s faithfulness, love and care for us. What an awesome day that will be. Until that time, will you pray with me for those women in our groups that have very little margin to handle anything beyond the day to day? That their faith would remain strong and that their love for others would shine in their communities?
Ingredients locally available can make 20L of liquid soap that can be shared among neighbors and the excess sold for income.
As of now, we are glad to say there are no confirmed COVID-19 cases at the hospital or in our rural county. All elective surgical cases are on hold for now to conserve supplies. We are believing that the Lord who has been faithful up till now will continue to be so.
Sitting at our table overlooking the Tenwek river this morning pondering the worldwide events we are all experiencing together yet separately. Hard to imagine beforehand. I imagine much of what we are discussing around our tables and on our devices is quite similar. And stressful.
I happen to be reading 1 Thessalonians 3 today and I find it remarkably appropriate. For those reading this who are trusting their lives to Jesus (and for those who are not - keep reading, I think you will find something you can relate to), it is an incredible mix of the challenges of this life with the hope of what is to come.
When we decided to trust in Jesus, most, if not all of us, had someone who influenced us in that journey. And now perhaps we have been that person for someone else. It’s an incredible process. Reading this passage of the Bible, you can feel the compassion and value and joy on both sides of this.
The final paragraph points to the essential and amazing impact of God in our walk along the path. He is the one who creates within us the men and women we so long to be. Who generates the love in our hearts for one another. Not just between those who share the same hope and trust in Jesus. But a love that extends to all of those around us on this planet we call Earth.
In days like these that most of us find difficult to deal with and to process, I believe that we can hold on to our hope in Jesus and focus on loving one another.
The details of how that love shows up may be different. For some, it may mean going in to a hospital to work - risking oneself for the sake of others. For others, it may mean staying home - reducing the speed of spread of this virus. For others, it may mean dropping off groceries to those most at risk so they can avoid going out. Still others will be active online, creating content like music and prayer and encouraging words as we are separated in so many ways. I could make a long list.
This morning watching our muddy river that gives us water and electricity, I am reminded of the good that God can bring from something. I pray that each one of us can see our part to play in this new world.
For Julie and I, we were in the US for two weeks visiting a family member whose cancer had recurred. It was a challenging decision to return to Kenya on our scheduled flight last weekend as borders were closing, the US State Department issued its strongest warning against such travel, the flight itself was a significant exposure to our family, perhaps bringing the virus with us to a rural resource limited location, looking at our two children and knowing the healthcare limitations we still have at Tenwek… In the end, we felt God asking us to return home to Tenwek and to serve here - loving on our friends and neighbors along with the patients at Tenwek Hospital. All of our leaders and parents agreed. That in itself was surprising. So we discussed it with Eden who prayed and also agreed - though she didn’t want to leave family. Caleb continued to shoot things with his Legos…
So now we are here at home in Tenwek. All healthy so far. Homeschool back in full swing. One week of quarantine done, one week to go. Then I will begin working in the hospital. We don’t have any known or suspected cases at Tenwek so far but I expect them to come soon.
My prayer for all of us is that we will know the love of God shown to us in Jesus. To experience that for ourselves. To rest in his love for us. And to share that love with those around us.
“And may the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow and overflow, just as our love for you overflows. May he, as a result, make your hearts strong, blameless, and holy as you stand before God our Father when our Lord Jesus comes again with all his holy people. Amen.”
1 Th 3:12–13 NLT
This January another class of general surgery and orthopedic surgery residents graduated from the PAACS Tenwek Surgery Residency Program. To God be the Glory! It is so encouraging to see the knowledge and passion for taking care of patients with excellence in the name of Jesus expanding.
The Tabitha Bible Studies are continuing to bring light and life and give joy....and that's just me to me! We are focusing on personal quiet times of studying and sharing testimonies while we are together. We also started studying the book of Luke in February. I am always in awe how the Lord can knit people together with very little in common, except Jesus. I am so honored to be part of these women.
I think THE MOST EXCITING THING to say about the last three months, is that this wild child has chosen to give his life to Jesus. He prayed with us to ask Jesus to forgive his sins and be in charge of his life. Eden asked how could he understand those concepts at such a young age. I don't know. But I do know that he talks about Jesus and the bible and God with new understanding and zeal that he didn't have before. If you would have asked me three months ago if he was getting anything that we have been talking about in our morning bible time....I would've said, I doubt it because every answer he gave had something to do with legos or pirates or some kind of other unrelated thing. We praise the Lord for this awesome good gift!!!!!
Lastly, Eden and her dad had been training for a bike race on Mount Kenya Valentines weekend. It was 26 miles!!! They camped out on Mt Kenya at 4,000ft. Then took a vehicle up to 10,000ft and rode down to the finish line. This year it was so muddy that a lot of people dropped out. The mud kept getting stuck in their ties and the wheels wouldn't move. But they persevered!!! And FINISHED!!!! They passed gazelle, zebra, a herd of elephant and a RHINO!!!!!! I think that's a story that Eden will be telling for the rest of her life....I know I'm going to be bragging about it for the rest of my life!
Thank you for your continued support and prayers. God is using your faithfulness to move mountains!
Looking for a different kind of gift this year? Here are a few ideas!!
Mike (pediatric surgeon) and Julie (nurse/mother to two) living in Kenya, East Africa