Friday, September 23, 2016

"Dimensions of the Faith"

For the last few months, I've been working through a series of Bible classes from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. All missionaries serving long-term with SIM are required to have some basic Bible courses, and this one was highly recommended. My first term of service overseas will likely be less than 2 years (and therefore not "long term"), but I am planning to return to Africa as a "career missionary," so I decided to start working on the additional requirements. *Go ahead, call me an over-achiever!*

Their "Dimensions of the Faith" course is available online for free, with both the audio lectures and PDF workbook available for download. The courses are designed for any Christian desiring to have a better understanding of how the Bible is put together, basic church doctrine and theology, and a proper understanding of missions. Thankfully, there are very few seminary terms, so it's pretty easy to follow along! Each lesson is about 45 minutes, and the two- or three-page workbook lesson helps me stay focused. Seriously, you should go check it out!

After working through the "Biblical Interpretation" and "Old Testament Survey I" courses, I decided to skip ahead and go through the "Church History I" class. Here's a quote from yesterday's audio lesson that really hit me:

"In our own post-modern world with its radical relativism, there appears to be less and less need to be tethered to truth or tethered to historical evidence. People simply tell their own stories and allow you to tell you ownbut with no absolute requirement, no rule against which all of these are tested. In the midst of that relativism, although, I'm here to remind us that for the Christian scholar, history must be a study built upon evidence. We must find those sources, study them, analyze them, and tell the story based upon what was the reality of the past rather than what we might have wished it to be. This means for the evangelical scholar that we must be absolutely diligent in our searching out of the truth rather than creating reality for our own purposes."
-Dr. Garth Rosell

Don't get me wrong; I'm all for "telling your own story" and recognizing each person's individuality. I believe it's important for each person to feel like they've been heard, their ideas are valid, their experiences are real, and their reactions are normal (albeit sinful at times). I agree that there are personal applications of Biblical principles. I agree that the Bible is "living and active" and that the Holy Spirit causes verses to "pop out" and enlighten us as we read. But where we can easily get into trouble is when we interpret the Bible or alter our theology based on our individual desires. However, the Bible is not a story that needs re-telling in our own ways, nor do I think it needs a "modern-day interpretation."

Likewise, church history should not be retold without talking about the crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, or the Reformation. Without understanding what led to those dark periods in our history, we can easily repeat it! There's a tendency to downplay the low points of our particular denomination while tearing down other denominations. It's easy to point fingers at other religions and their heresy while disregarding the wayward teachings in our own churches today. I see that the modern-day church is becoming more and more "culturally relevant" while becoming less and less a source of truth and clarity. In our search for the lost sheep, are we drifting further and further away from the sheepfold and the Shepherd?

Anyway, just some thoughts. I'm enjoying going through this course as it draws me back to the foundations of my faith, challenges some of what I've always been taught, and consistently points me back to the Scriptures to seek out the truth. I'm realizing how important it is to be firmly grounded in my own faith before leaving for the mission field. There, I know I will encounter Christianity mixed with animist (folk or voodoo) beliefs, churches that are struggling to implement Biblical worship and church government, and unique Biblical interpretations seen through the African worldview! 

Saturday, September 17, 2016


When you walk into my room, this is the first thing you see:

(Inspiration originally from A Beautiful Mess, one of my favorite blogs)
Yes, it's unusual to have a 2.5' x 5' board covered in flowers on your wall! The word "Restore" has sort of become my motto. So much so, that it's part of my ministry tagline: "Restoring Dignity to African Women through Physical Therapy."

God first spoke this word to me in January 2013 at the Passion conference in Atlanta, Georgia. This packed three-day conference for over 60,000 college-aged students came at a pivotal point in my life. I was 2/3 of the way through physical therapy school and about to start my first clinical rotation (which I was utterly freaked out about!) I was moving back in with my parents for a time and starting to think about job-searching and post-graduation plans. I was working through the fallout of a relationship I'd had through most of college that had recently ended, and I realized that I was losing touch with my closest friendssome of whom I'd even come to the conference with. Worst of all, I felt like the dream of becoming a missionary physical therapist that God had placed in my heart during the summer I spent with Mercy Ships in 2010 was further away than ever. 

I remember looking around my "small group" of over 5,000 students and around my "family" of eight, and I feeling utterly alone. The main session speakers were wonderful, the worship was phenomenal, and the small group discussions helped me plan how to integrate the teachings into daily life. But I felt like everyone else was experiencing God in a real and powerful way, while God had forgotten me and my hurts and my hangups. I just wasn't sure He cared about me and my dreams anymore. 

Then one night while walking to worship in The Georgia Dome, I looked up and saw this sign:

It was just one of dozens such signs with words like "Freedom," "Prayer," "Courage," "Truth," and other inspirations centered around that year's theme of social justice and modern day slavery.

But I couldn't get that word out of my head.

During our afternoon break the next day, I wandered into the Prayer Room. This quiet place was filled with students praying for social justice organizations and for other students' prayer requests posted on the wall. Other students were scattered around the room journalling or reading their Bibles. I found a beanbag in a corner, opened my journal, and asked God to speak to my aching heart...

"Lost in You, expectant waiting, tired of waiting, wait for Me. No shame. I'm not enough, He will equip. There's not enough time, God of the impossible. This is a generation of faith. At the death of death, power, all-consuming love, pouring out, in my place, it is enough, let go of your burdens. I will give you new skin, old dry bones replaced, dance for the first time, someone's gonna find their healing. Community, family, believing His promises. He is real, I am real, my time is now, my dream's not dead. Reshape. Network. Share. Love. Inspire. Wonder in awe of who God is. Expand my world. Rock my socks off. Restoration. He is leaving nothing broken. Restoring life
- January 2, 2013

***Those of you who have heard that year's Passion album, "Let the Future Begin," 
will recognize some of the song lyrics in that journal entry*** 

And right there in the corner of that Prayer Room, God spoke to my heart in the quiet and unmistakable way He uses with me:

"I have not forgotten you."

God had not forgotten my dreams. He had not lost me in the midst of graduate school and the angst of being a young twenty-something. But He was continuing to let me feel like I didn't fit in with my own generation, and continuing to let me struggle to identify with them. He wanted to enlarge my faith and prepare me for the real world. And as I ventured out out of the physical therapy classroom and into the clinic, He wanted me to remember that I was not in it for the money or for the personal fulfillment. He reminded me that I'd chosen that field in order to help people achieve their goals (and sometimes help them dream again), and so I could impact their lives in multiple areas, not just physically. He had not forgotten me. In fact, He was just getting started with me.

God continued to speak that word, "Restore," to me the rest of 2013 as I worked with physical therapy patients from all walks of life, with all sorts of injuries, and with vastly different goals. I thought He was leading me to a high-class and fast-paced clinic in Boston, but instead I found the perfect job at the small county hospital in rural East Texas where I started working in March 2014.

And somewhere in the mundane of the 9-5 job and small town life, I kind of forgot about my dream. I still wanted to be a missionary, but more in the "maybe one day" sense of the word. I  had gotten lost in the never-ending pile of patient documentation, learning all the real-world skills they don't teach you in PT school, and in pursuing various volunteer and continuing education opportunities that didn't really lead me any further towards the mission field. 

I made this wall hanging to remind me every day that my goal is physical restoration. I started to see my patients in a different light: restoring a high school athlete to his pre-injury status, restoring life to an older person undergoing surgery, restoring intimacy and dignity to a woman with pelvic dysfunction, and restoring sanity to a caregiver that was simply overwhelmed.

Now that I'm on the road to becoming a missionary physical therapist, I'm excited to join God in the restorative work He's already doing overseas! I'm partnering with a Christian organization and will be working at a Christian hospital, so will have unrestricted ability to share the gospel with my patients. In working with fistula care, I will have the opportunity to really build relationships with the women who are at the center for several months. And as I combine my physical therapy skills with others bringing their surgical, nursing, life skills, and evangelism training, we will have the unique opportunity to bring total restoration to each of our patients!

Monday, August 29, 2016

Vision Trip #3: Danja, Niger

 To read about the first part of my trip in Nigeria, click here.
To read about the second part of my trip in Galmi, Niger, click here.

After eating yummy cinnamon buns on Wednesday morning, we loaded up into the car, strapped our bags on top, and drove about three hours to the SIM hospital in Danja, Niger.
Praying with some of the Galmi staff before we left
All packed up and ready to go!

We passed through the town of Maradi on our way to Danja. Maradi is the local government center (similar to a state capital), and it has a small airport that appears to only be used for private or chartered planes. Maradi is only about 20 miles north of the Nigeria border, so a lot of trade goes through Maradi.

This guy is the African version of the milk man. His motorcycle-cart carries big plastic sacks of little 500ml water bags
One of the used clothing markets in Maradi

This shop sells pre-made hijabs in various colors and lengths
It's very common to see rows and rows of cement cinder blocks curing in the sun. Much of the construction in Maradi is done with cement

The main drive into the Danja compound

The hospital has both a fistula center and a designated leprosy center
After settling in, one of the missionary families took Dad and I on a walk through the fields surrounding the hospital. The SIM property is quite extensive, so much of it is farmed by locals, similar to sharecropping. The original idea was to bird-watch, but our friends also pointed out some interesting plants and trees along the way.

On Thursday morning, we started off the morning by joining in with staff devotions in the Danja Fistula Center. It was in Hausa, and then the director gave some announcements in French, but one of the nursing staff kindly translated for us!
The beautiful chapel building
Afterwards, we had a tour of the fistula center and of the rest of the hospital.
The ward can have up to 80 women at a time! Right now it was empty, as the women had graduated to the village.
Like many mission or NGO hospitals, there's a focus on maternal and infant care. Here, the infant clinic will distribute "Plumpy Nut" to infants and children who are severely malnourished. It requires no mixing and is shelf-stable; all the mama has to do is tear off a corner of the packaging and the paste can be squeezed out, perhaps by the child himself while he is on his mama's back. Plumpy Nut is made out of peanuts and fortified with other nutrients.

After our hospital tour, the director's wife took us to the fistula village out back. Here, the women will live for about three months while learning to do embroidery and knitting, some basic school lessons, and have the opportunity to partake in a 3x/wk exercise class. The ladies were gracious to show us the embroidered baby wrappers (fabric lengths about 2m long used to tie babies onto a mama's back) they were making to sell. Gina, the missionary psychologist also spends time with these women sharing Bible stories and doing group counselling/trauma support.

Me, Nancy (director's wife), and Gina (psychologist) holding a tool used for community education regarding fistula and obstructed childbirth. The fabric flipchart uses simple to understand graphics and written descriptions in Hausa, Fulani, and French.
I was able to sit in on the group exercise class that Esther runs. Esther is a Nigerien nurse who received some therapy training from the missionary PT who was just there, and she helps out the Nigerien PT who is over in the hospital. The women have a program focused on core and leg strengthening, and many of them knew it entirely by heart! I was encouraged to see exercises like bridges, heel raises, clamshells, and quadruped leg extensions.
Heel raises and standing hamstring curls
Esther (standing in the blue shirt) supervising ladies doing sidelying clamshells

I think I just introduced some of the women to their first selfie! 
In the afternoon, Dad and I had some time to rest at the beautiful guesthouse. We brought our plastic chairs out into the breezeway and enjoyed a cup of tea. We also watched the butterflies and the neighbor's chicken scratching in the guesthouse courtyard.

I might have made friends with the pet cat. She belongs to the missionary PT who is on home assignment now, so Gina's taking care of her and all the missionary families feed her scraps. She went by "Ugly Kitty" and I never found out her real name!
Our rooms were small, but clean. I had an air conditioner unit AND a ceiling fan! This was also the first time the entire trip that we used mosquito nets, praise God!
Each room had a small quilt handmade by a quilter's guild in Australiahow cool!

On Friday, we were able to meet Dr. Intengre, the fistula surgeon. The center is just a few years old and was funded largely by Worldwide Fistula Fund, so there is a lot of potential there! I returned to the exercise class, and this time Esther asked me to show some more exercises. I decided it was easier to advance some of the exercises they were already used to doing than to teach new ones, especially because my knowledge of French matched Esther's knowledge of English!

We ate lunch with the director at the hospital canteen. You never know what's going to be on the menu for the day. We were blessed to have "rice and sauce" and a soda for about $2/person. The sauce was made from moringa leaf (a vitamin & mineral-rich plant that's grown in West Africa) and seemed to be mixed with tomato, but I didn't ask. Like Dad says, "if it was good, don't ask what it was!"

In the afternoon, I went out to the fistula village with Gina as she used Bible flipcharts to tell the story of creation, how sin entered the world, and why Jesus' death erased the punishment for our sin. She'd told pieces of the story before, so some of the women volunteered here and there to help her re-tell it. I sat on the ground with the other women under their tin shelter and when I pulled out my own knitting project, I think I made about 20 new friends!

I also spent some time with Samalia, the PT who treats all the leprosy, surgical, and orthopedic cases. He is a recent graduate of a PT program in Niger, and he had lots of questions to ask me. I wrote down a few exercise suggestions to better help him treat low back pain (it seems like that's a tough diagnosis for any new PT around the world!) and worked with Esther to develop an advanced set of exercises for her class. I decided to draw the exercises out with stick people so she wouldn't have to try to translate my written descriptionwe both laughed at my horrible drawing skills.
I think every clinic has a stash of walkers and mobility devices!
Samalia and I talked through appropriate use of modalities like heat/ice/diathermy (I'd never actually seen a diathermy unit before!), then he and Esther helped me start a list of helpful words and phrases in English, Hausa, and French. We exchanged email addresses and I look forward to corresponding with him as he grows in his clinical skills and I learn how to treat conditions far more advanced than usually seen in America.

On Saturday, we had a few hours to enjoy a cup of tea and both Dad and I to finish our books, then it was time to drive to the airport in Maradi. We met Ian again and loaded up for an hour-long ride to Galmi. There we picked up another passenger, and then flew back to Niamey.

The Maradi airport
The view of Maradi from a couple hundred feet up
The view of the main road leading South to the Nigerian border
Pretty African fields from about 3,000 ft up
This is what African villages look like from 8,000 ft up
We were taken to the home of the SIM Niger Director. We chatted for a few hours, then they took us out to a lovely restaurant for dinner. We got back to their home about 930pm and Dad and I had to be up at midnight! Our taxi driver came for us at 1230am and took us to the airport in time for our 3am flight.

We took quite a circuitous route back homewe went through Casblanca, Morocco; Madrid, Spain; and Miami, Florida! During our layover in Madrid we found a Starbucks and a duty free shop selling Kinder Eggs!
If I fly through an airport in a country I've never been to before, does that count as visiting ?
Venti iced caramel macchiato please! (Decaf, so I can get some sleep on this next 8 hour flight!)
If you don't know the magic that is Kinder, you are seriously missing out! Too bad they're illegal in the US due to the small parts being a choking hazard!
We arrived home on Sunday, the same day we left Nigertime zones are weird thingsand Mom met us at the airport with chocolate and a few of our favorite foods!

All in all, Dad and I had a great trip and enjoyed meeting everyone, seeing the facilities, and hearing about the work God is doing through SIM in Niger and Nigeria.

I remember Dad asking me one day as we were sitting at the Danja guesthouse drinking tea, "So, do you know where you're going to go?" I told him my thoughts, and he agreed with me. God couldn't have been more clear! So, where am I going? Well, you'll just have to wait and read the next post!