It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye

Guest post by Ken

“Missing friends is the worst part of moving away.” – Sue Dinkins PinionTomas-Vokoun-213x380

I am not a sentimental person. Our closets are not filled with memorabilia or souvenirs. I have a few, but only a few. (Tomas Vokoun bobblehead doll. 2003 NHL Rookie Draft ID badge that was signed by Wayne Gretzky.) It may be the number of times that we have moved.  More keepsakes means more boxes and longer moving days.

Christmas would be the exception. We intentionally add a new souvenir each year to our “tree of memories”. I like this tradition. It may be in part because Christmas ornaments are small and easy to move.

Whether good or bad, I have always been good at saying good-bye. I think it started back when I was in college. Each summer I worked as a counselor at Camp Sebago, the Salvation Army Camp on Sebago Lake, Maine. The days were long but the summers flew by quickly. And at the end of each week we (the counselors) would say tearful heart-felt goodbyes to our campers. With each week the goodbyes got easier–routine almost.

In ministry Robin and I have had to say more than a few goodbyes as well. Some have been easy and some have been very difficult. Fortunately in college ministry (which is what Robin and I have been doing for the last 15 years) goodbyes are natural as students graduate and move away to conquer the world.

Leaving Wesley Community Church in Pembroke, Ontario was easy for me. I loved the people there and the teens especially. I was grateful for the friendships with Elizabeth Stewart, Mike McConnachie, Darren Somerville, and Morgan MacPherson. But leaving Pembroke was easy because I was moving in order to marry Robin and begin our lives together.

adamWhen Robin and I left Marion, IN it was a particularly hard goodbye for two reasons. The first reason was the circumstances under which we left. We loved Pastor Dave Terhune and felt tremendously blessed to serve with him. He loved Jesus and was an incredibly gifted soul-winner.  The second reason why is was hard to leave Marion was it meant leaving behind a very good friend, Adam Sprinkle. Adam was like the brother I never had. He still makes me laugh like no one else can. Adam was a relatively new believer and so saying goodbye in order to pursue God’s will was still foreign to him. To this day, one of my greatest regrets in ministry was having to say goodbye to Adam.

Now that we are planning to move to Ghana people ask what we are going to miss most. In terms of the “stuff”… nothing. Not really. There will be days in which I just wish I could microwave something, watch hockey on our plasma screen TV or eat a Five Guys cheeseburger, but for the most part it’s all small potatoes.

Robin and I talk–almost daily–about what WILL be hard for us to leave behind: our dogs. We have had Buddy & Holly for over eight years. They are part of our family. It’s on our kid’s minds as well. For Addie & Palmer, the dogs have been two constants in their young lives.puppies_at_beach

What makes saying goodbye to Buddy and Holly particularly difficult for me is that I know they won’t understand. They’re just dogs. But they are our dogs and we love them dearly.

Intellectually we know that we cannot put the love of our dogs before our commitment to do God’s will. But emotionally it is inconceivable that there will come a day when we will have to say goodbye to Buddy & Holly.

 If you’re not a dog person, this may all sound silly to you. That’s okay. But for those of you who have enjoyed the companionship of man’s best friend, you understand the hurt that is a part of our decision to move to Ghana. And we would ask that you pray that God will help us find a loving home for two amazing canine friends entering their golden-years.

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Thanks for Nothing

It’s funny how time changes your perspective on people, even after they are gone. My grandmother, Grace Story, was born on the mission field in China. Though she passed away over five years ago, I know that she always had a heart for missionaries, since she had lived on the mission field until she was 12 years old. She spoke 5 different languages growing up. She was disciplined, frugal, and could be stern. But oh could she laugh! And oh how she loved Jesus.

I actually never lived close enough to my grandmother to see her on a regular basis. There were many holidays spent together, and the occasional family reunion, but not the consistent contact that many grandparents have with their grandchildren. I don’t feel like I knew her well, or was very close to her. But I do remember how I felt about her.

I remember as a child being annoyed that my grandparents didn’t shower me with gifts, or cash, or much in the way of tangible items compared to what many of my friends received. I got cards containing sentiments, but not cash. Presents, if any, were simple and wrapped in used paper. Who reuses wrapping paper!? Every penny was counted, none were wasted. There was no cable television at their house. Boring! The air conditioner would not be turned on in the car. Unless I had heat exhaustion and I threw up. Which I did. Even flushes of the toilet were carefully guarded. As odd as it may seem, that is what I remember most about my grandmother as I was growing up. Wishing I could squeeze just a little generosity out of the matriarch of the family.

As an adult, and loving geriatric patients, I now understand a bit more about my grandmother, having gone through the Great Depression in her young adulthood. Being frugal had become a lifestyle that would not be erased over time. Her excruciating frugality was a difficult and chosen lifestyle, which I can now appreciate.

It wasn’t until her funeral that I found that there was even more to Grandma’s frugality. She gave sacrificially to missions, not just financially, but in hours spent at the typewriter writing letters. She took extra jobs cleaning boarding houses or picking berries to earn money for mission pledges. In fact, we found that my grandfather had saved money secretly for retirement, because if she had known about the money, my grandmother would have given it away to missions. What I had perceived as a lack of generosity was actually more generosity than I could imagine — giving away every single spare penny to missions.
Looking back through the lens of time, I realize that the birthday cards that didn’t carry cash, the simple Christmas gifts, the carefully counting of pennies weren’t because of a lack of love. They were because there were people around the world who needed her generosity more than I did, and her few dollars helped to bring the gospel to those who needed to hear. How many souls is she meeting in heaven now because of her frugal generosity? I’m quite certain there is a long line because indeed, Grandma died rather penniless.

Thank you for all the empty cards, the crumpled wrapping paper, and the meager gifts, Grandma. It was money well spent. I hope you know that those gifts of nothingness have inspired me to live out the dream you were never able to as an adult: to go to the mission field.

God’s Purpose in My Imprisonment

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Our family with friends and future partners from Ghana.

Everywhere I looked, there was someone from my past. My heart surged with joy with each remembered face, as I recounted the memories we had enjoyed together. A few faces from my childhood, some from my college years, and many from our years in ministry, all together to celebrate what God is doing. While it sounds like a vision of heaven, it was a conference. This week, Ken and I attended The Gathering, the clergy conference for The Wesleyan Church. Eleven years have gone by since we’ve been a part of The Wesleyan Church, but it didn’t seem to matter. We had dozens of meaningful conversations, hugged a hundred shoulders, and laughed about times gone by as if we were never gone.

As we told our friends over and over again how God called us to Ghana, and how we knew we were called, I repeated over and over,

“I knew that if God were to call us to Africa, He would have to heal my lungs. I spent over $50,000 in 2013 trying to get my asthma under control, but what modern medicine did not have the ability to do, God did. I’ve been off of all of my asthma medicines since August. I had previously not been able to go more than 2 days without steroids, now it’s been almost six months.”

Kyle Ray preached a message on the following passage at The Gathering.

Acts 16:23-33

After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized.

 

The miracle of the story of God’s deliverance of Paul and Silas and salvation of the jailer starts at a very different place: being flogged with rods for delivering a young girl from demon possession. They weren’t fake rods. It wasn’t an imaginary beating. They had real pain. Real bruises. Real blood drying on their torn skin as they sat with their feet uncomfortably stretched out in front of them and locked in stocks. Between the bruises on their back, the skin tears rubbing in the dirty walls of the prison, and their inability to move their feet, there was no way to get comfortable. There was no way to sleep.

So they might as well sing praises.

The earthquake came. The chains fells off, not only them, but off the other prisoners too. The jailer came to salvation, as well as his whole family.

But the miracle for Paul and all those around him came only after the beating. The chains. The shackles. The skin tears. The bruises.

Would the jailer have come to know Christ if Paul hadn’t sung throughout his misery or stayed in spite of his freedom? If there hadn’t been something radically different about the attitude of Paul and Silas, would the jailer have asked what he needed to do to be saved?

Sometimes God wants to accomplish His purposes through our pain. Sometimes our pain is not about us, but what He wants to do in someone else. Sometimes the purpose of our pain only comes in hindsight.

I think about the last eleven years that I’ve spent struggling to breathe because of my asthma. The massive doses of steroids that I’ve taken. The relentless coughing. The days I spent suffocating, unable to walk even across my living room to get a glass of water. I never stopped to ask God why.

Now that I am breathing freely, and after hearing this Scripture anew, I think I may know why. My asthma wasn’t just about me. The misery I experienced pales in comparison to the joy of talking about His healing. I would not have been able to experience His healing if there was nothing to be healed from. Would our family believe in God’s healing power in the same way if I had never had asthma or been delivered from it myself? Would I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God has called us to Ghana if I had never had asthma in the first place?

If my former suffering can bring people to see the power of God to heal, than then every strained breath was absolutely worth it. If my release from the suffocation gives me more enthusiasm to serve Him, the suffocation was worth it. If my eleven year imprisonment to my lungs confirms my calling in its freedom, than the prison sentence was worth it.

Sometimes prison is exactly where God wants us. For now, I’m breathing in the fresh air of freedom.

What I Hope to Take from Africa

My adoration of the people of Africa started over 20 years ago. In my Interpersonal Communications class that I took in the spring of my sophomore year in college, there was always one student I wanted to partner with. Her skin was the deep richness of milk chocolate, she carried herself regally like a gracious but exotic queen, and her deep voice had a crisp and clean accent. Some consonants were accentuated. Others were barely spoken. The beauty of her speech made me want to sit and talk with her whenever I could. Her African accent still wafts through my mind.

 

IMG_1290Nearly four years ago, when we sought after what countries were most in need, and were easiest to process through, we came upon the Democratic Republic of Congo. The richest country in the world in terms of natural resources, but nearly the very poorest in terms of average personal income. The world is enamored with its treasures, but is disrespectful of its people. It’s broad-nosed, full-faced, beautiful people. Our hearts melted for the overwhelming poverty, and its youngest victims, the thousands of orphans within its borders. We brought two of them home to live with us.

 

More recently, my first day on the job at DMHC in December, I walked into the medication room at an assisted living facility, where the staff was hard at work. Three women were busily chattering, but two of them had melodic voices and the same crisp syllables. They were a bit different from each other, but beautiful nonetheless. When there was a break in the conversation, I had to ask, “Excuse me, but may I ask where you are from?” One replied, “I am from Kinshasa in the Congo,” and the other replied, “I am from Accra in Ghana.” I hugged them both. And then I explained why. By the end of the day, they each promised to move to Africa with me.

 

As I was walking down the hallway at work last Saturday, a tech was talking to another. I immediately interrupted and said, “I’m so sorry to interrupt, but where are you from?” She smiled and said, “I’m from Accra, in Ghana.” I squealed and hugged her as I showed her the Ghana map pendant that I was wearing around my neck.

 

When Paul Borthwick, author of Western Christians in Global Missions, was traveling to Nigeria, he met a young man named Robert. He recounts in his book,

 

“Robert, how did you become a Christian?”

 

He replied, “Oh, Brother John over there raised me from the dead.”

 

After recovering from my surprise, I asked him, “Why do my Nigerian friends see more miracles than we do in the United States?”

 

“You have more doctors,” he replied matter-of-factly. “If God doesn’t heal us, we die. You just have more doctors.” Using good theology, he concluded, “God heals you one way, and he heals us another.”

 

The church that is dependent on Jesus sees God’s power in a way that a church that is dependant on itself does not.

I’ve thought of all the things that I want to bring to Africa. I hadn’t given much considered what Africa could give to me. Right now in Africa, people are being miraculously healed, while I depend too much on my diagnostic and prescribing skills. God is calling African people to Jesus through visions and dreams, while I worry about saying just the right thing at just the right time to those around me.  In Africa, people are seeking Jesus by finding a Christian and asking the believer to lead them to Christ, because God Himself has laid the gospel on their hearts — not an television evangelist message, Christian concert altar call, newly constructed building with ample parking, or outreach event with the gospel slipped in between the lines to not be too offensive.

 

The stories we read about with awe in the Book of Acts are still happening in Africa today. No one has told the Christians in Africa that these things just don’t happen anymore.

 

They wouldn’t believe it anyway.

 

I want to experience Christianity unpolluted by time and progress. I want to depend on the Holy Spirit for my work, and for my witness.

 

If current trends continue, Africa will be the most Christian continent by 2025. The average Christian is now no longer a Caucasian of middle class status, but a poor minority woman from the southern hemisphere, most likely from Africa. I am excited to witness first-hand the shift of Christianity to a non-American religion, and help the Africans to lead the way by example.

mission-cemeteryPaul Borthwick also talks about early mission work in Ghana. When he visited the country, he was taken to a missionary cemetery where he saw the graves of many British missionaries who died at the age of 25 or 26. In fact, missionaries just a century ago would pack their belongings in caskets rather than suitcases because they fully expected to die on the mission field. And they did– most of them after only a short time of planting the seeds of the gospel. But the seeds they planted are still growing. I am convinced that their radical sacrifices are still bearing fruit as the gospel continues to spread like Holy Spirit-driven wildfire. I believe God honors our decisions to do hard things, even if we never see the rewards ourselves.

 

My adoration of the people of Africa has blossomed into a desire to serve them, and to learn from them. How fortunate I am that God has called me to be a witness to what He is doing among them!

Why I’m Not Going to Ghana on a Short-Term Medical Mission Trip

The glassed-in room could barely contain the anxiety of the suit-wearing prospective physician assistant student in front of me. Just me and the candidate. I had 7 minutes to size them up.

My question of the candidates was the same for each, as much as it was for me. I asked them a question that was plaguing my own heart. It was a question posed by Palmer,

“Why are there so many doctors in America, and not enough in Africa?”

I honestly didn’t expect the applicants to have a well-thought out answer, but I wanted to listen to them process the disparity. I wanted to hear them wrestle through the thoughts that I was having.

I wondered if this conversation might be a flash forward to one day when I appear before God’s throne, and He asks me the same thing.

“Why were there so many doctors in America, and not enough in Africa?”

The answers from the candidates were varied, but all laid the responsibility at the feet of the Africans.

“The people in Africa just need to pull themselves out of poverty.”

“They just need to get an education and become doctors themselves.”

I reminded the candidates that in Congo, the average income is around $400 per year, and sending a child to school costs more than that. Their annual income couldn’t even meet what is needed for food, clothing, and shelter, much less medical care and education.

Candidates would predictably turn to international aid.

“We should send short-term missionaries to help them for a week or two out of the year, and I plan to do that,” was the near unanimous reply from dozens of applicants.

I would challenge, “What about the other 50 weeks out of the year? Who will care for them then? What if they have an allergic reaction to a medication? What if it doesn’t work or they can’t get more? Who will follow up with them?

The students would then go back to the same struggle.

“Well, maybe you could coordinate teams so that a different team would be there every . . .” Their voices would trail off in realization of the massive logistics.

How would medical language be translated effectively? How would short-termers know the cultural implications of their treatments, or if patients could even afford them? What if the provider wasn’t well-versed in tropical medicine and missed the diagnosis entirely? How would we feel if a Russian doctor flew in for a week, popped up a tent in the parking lot, and started to see patients for free in our local town without knowing language, licensing, culture, or medical logistics here?

My final question was this: Who is responsible for making sure that the underserved around the world get access to quality health care?

Most agreed that someone should go long-term.

Someone.

Most agreed that that someone should be someone besides them.

And then it was time for them to move to the next station. And time for me to interview another candidate.

Only a few weeks later, Ken and I returned from northern Ghana, where the number of medical providers is even fewer than in Congo. As we sat sipping coffee in Charlotte, we asked ourselves: Could we accomplish the same goals by going short-term several times a year? We could keep our house, keep our kids in the nice school they are in, and have minimal disruption to our lives. It would be easier.

How many patients can know the love of Christ if I only see them once? How many health care workers can be trained if I am in and out of the country several times a year? How many new believers can be mentored in their faith? How can we be competent in understanding the culture, Ghanaian medical practice, local language, and have meaningful relationships with just a few trips a year?

My mind flashed back to the struggle in that interview room that every prospective student had, trying to balance the logistics.

Someone needs to go long-term.

Are some called to go short term? Absolutely. But without someone there long-term, there cannot be others going short-term.

Clinic IVIn a year where short term medical mission trips, dollars, and interest are at an all-time high, mission hospitals and clinics around the world are struggling to operate and remain staffed as mission dollars are being spent on short-term trips, rather than long-term investments.

When we were in Ghana, we visited a Wesleyan clinic on the outskirts of the capital of Accra. The clinic staff that we visited had not been paid in weeks, and yet I was trying to convince them to allow short-term students and volunteers to come and “help,” in spite of the fact that they were fully-staffed and open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Clinic staffHad I asked those staff members if they would rather have someone spend $4000 to come on a short-term mission trip or donate $4000 to the operating expenses of their clinic, what would their answer have been? As much as short-term help can be such a boost, it cannot replace those who are there long-term, and in some cases, it can cause the locals to lose their much-needed jobs.

If every dollar spent on short-term medical trips were matched by dollars spent on long-term investments, medical missions could be radically transformed into sustainable ministries with continuity and higher standards of care.

Maybe we should at least give the option to the people in developing countries we are seeking to serve: What would a financial contribution in the amount potentially spent on a short term mission team do for your organization? Which would your organization rather have? It’s not as sexy to send money anonymously as it is to go– there are fewer pictures and safaris and stories to tell, but perhaps the field should be given deference to the work they are already doing, and the needs that only they know about. Maybe missions shouldn’t be as much about our needs as theirs.

As I sat in the room with the PA student candidates, as I asked the unpaid staff in the Wesleyan clinic in Accra to take American volunteers, as I sat in the coffee shop in Charlotte, I realized that I needed to put the needs of the field first. And what Ghana needs is my investment long-term in learning medicine, language, and culture to provide medical care in the name of Jesus to unreached peoples, and to build sustainable medical ministry by training local Wesleyans to provide basic medical care in their own communities.

To do this, someone has to go long-term.

 

And that someone is me.