Wednesday, April 1, 2020

A Few Musings on Uncertainty and other Updates

The Descent from the Cross (Rembrandt, 1634) - WikipediaK

Descent from the Cross, Rembrandt, 1634


Psalm 34:8 Taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.


I like certainty. Who doesn’t? Certainty is kind of like a safety net, or a warm blanket. When you're in an intellectual or emotional free-fall, you can always land on those things about which you're certain, and they will keep you safe. 

So what do you do when life takes away your certainty?  When your best efforts fail, and your patient loses their limb or their life? When in the course of a few months, a local viral outbreak has escalated to a global pandemic - and thousands upon thousands across the world are dying? When you hear spiritual leaders claim, in the midst of such suffering, that this virus is God’s judgement upon sinners?

I know what I do. I start asking questions. Is God really in control? If so, is He really loving?
Does God even exist?

To be honest, in the midst of significant individual, communal, and global suffering, my reason and intellectual certainty fail me. I can’t rationally explain to you how a loving, powerful God exists when there is so much pain and suffering in the world. People have been asking that question at least since the book of Job was written. People are asking it now. Try as I might to reason my way through it, I have yet to find a satisfactory answer.

Thankfully, we have more than just our reason to rely upon. We have scripture, a rich Christian tradition, and our own experience to help us navigate these times. Yep, I said it- experience. Even in the Bible's penultimate story of suffering, the book of Job doesn’t offer an explanation as to why Job's suffering occurs. What happens in the end is that Job has an experience of God, and his need for an explanation disappears.

Taste and see that the Lord is good.”
Not “think and see” and not “read and see.” "Taste and see."

In prayer, in meditation, and especially in the eyes of my patients who are suffering, I continue to encounter a God who is both good and powerful - and who transcends my reason and my doubts. As we face COVID-19 together, I encourage you to find God in such experiences, and take refuge in the kind of knowing that you find there.


Other Updates
- Our family is currently well. As of the time of this writing, there are about 50 confirmed cases of COVID 19 in Kenya. We are just beginning to see community spread. We pray that the rate of spread in Kenya remains slow, but as a hospital we are actively preparing for what may happen if/when we hit the steep portion of the curve.

- I continue to practice orthopedic surgery at the hospital. We have cancelled all elective cases, but we continue to treat trauma patients in urgent need of orthopedic care.

- Barnabas, the patient discussed in my previous post, recently walked into my clinic. He is doing well, his pelvis is healing, and he is thankful to God for the care he received.

- Another cause for uncertainty these days is the uncertain future of the orthopedic residency program here at Tenwek due to limited resources, especially in terms of long term staff. Please pray that God will provide.

- We as a family will continue to hold all of you in our prayers during this difficult time.




**Necessary disclaimer: the views expressed on this blog are my own, and do not represent those of Samaritan's Purse or of Tenwek Hospital**

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

It's ok Daktari...

"It's ok Daktari. Thank you. I will be ok."


We had maybe ten words in common, but somehow my patient, I'll call him Barnabas, had looked into my eyes and read me like a book.

For three mornings, I had approached Barnabas’ hospital bed with more than a small amount of anxiety. The last two days he had been too delirious to speak, or even wiggle his toes. And today, it seemed he was peering into my soul, seeing all the worry and discouragement there, and responding with hope.

Barnabas had been crushed by a forklift and had a complicated pelvic ring injury. His injury pattern and our limited resources required me to place hardware in his pelvis in ways I had never done before, which carried a risk of nerve injury. In addition, the last patient I performed open pelvis surgery on had developed a postoperative infection that had been difficult to control.


 
Barnabas' presenting CT scan
Barnabas' postoperative x-ray



So yes, each day as I approached Barnabas' bed, I anxiously looked at his wound and asked him to wiggle his toes.  Praise God, his toes were moving and his wound looked good. And now, as he was still gathering his senses, Barnabas was the one caring for me, telling me it was going to be ok.

And while I was certainly thinking, Thank God!, I was also wondering: How could he know it will be ok? Barnabas had no power to make his pelvis heal or prevent an infection. Indeed, he was in the same room as several patients whose wounds were not healing or who had lost their limbs due to infection. It was obvious that neither I, nor God, was miraculously preventing pain and suffering, even here at a mission hospital. So how could he say it would be ok?

Barnabas could have hope because he was surrounded by a community that cared for him, and he knew a God who was right there with him in the midst of his suffering. So regardless of the outcome, he would be ok.

Through Barnabas and several patients like him, I have been reminded that God is not distant and aloof, unaware or uncaring toward our pain and suffering. Rather, through Jesus, we know a God who entered into humanity and experienced the fullest extent of human suffering and evil. He was homeless, persecuted, tortured, and brutally murdered- and he responded with love, forgiveness, and hope.  This same Jesus continues to suffer with all humanity and gives us the strength to carry on with love and hope no matter the circumstances.

So as I enter this New Year, I am thankful and hopeful.  Yes, there is pain and suffering - and at times I am overwhelmed by the number of patients we treat, the severity of their injuries, and my own feelings of inadequacy to make any sort of difference.  But I’m thankful that Barnabas, probably unbeknownst to him, reminded me that it WILL BE OK. God is with us. I’m thankful for the opportunity to be serving here at Tenwek, and for the many friends and supporters like you that make this possible. I am hopeful that God will work in and through you and me and that Jesus' kingdom of selfless love will continue to grow. And I am ultimately hopeful for that day when, “the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God: they will be his peoples… he will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more: mourning and crying and pain will be no more…(Rev 21:3,4).”




…..And on a lighter note,  here are a few other things the Weston crew is thankful for as we close out 2019:
Two happy kids!



Chai with friends :)

Our first safari!


Dinner with the OR nurses

Christmas cookie decorating :)



...And a recent visit from Ali’s parents!

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Pair O' Ducks

It has now been just over three weeks since we arrived at our new home here at Tenwek Hospital. Praise the Lord for his goodness in safe, and relatively uneventful, travel.

So what does life look like for us now? How is the rubber meeting the road, now that we're in the field?

During our training this summer, a veteran missionary encouraged us to help our kids view the transition to Tenwek as a "pair o' ducks." A clever play on the word paradox, "pair o' ducks" is a way to make sense of how fun things ("yum ducks") and not so fun things ("yuck ducks") can coexist in the same situation. The analogy has been helpful with the kids, and for us grown ups too.

For example: 

Grace in front of our new home
Candelight Sunday dinners - started because of a power outage
and have now become a weekly tradition!
The flight to Nairobi: 
-Yuck duck: 16 hours of sitting for a four year old and two year old. (!!!)

-Yum duck: Unlimited movies and snacks! ;)


Our new house:
-Yuck ducks: Can't drink the water out of the sink, intermittent power outages

-Yum ducks: Plenty of space for running and playing, central location with lots of opportunities to play and meet new friends, great porch which we can enjoy all year in this incredible equatorial climate!

Our new community:
Yuck duck: We sure miss our friends/family, and there's no denying that it's hard to look different and speak differently than many people around us.

Yum ducks: Lots of kids to play with, we get to learn new words, eat new foods (one word: mandazi - Kenyan donut deliciousness), and it is socially and spiritually healthy for us to be in the minority and to worship God through the lens of a new culture.

As for John, he is enjoying his work in the hospital immensely. The bulk of the orthopedic practice at Tenwek is trauma-related, which is John's favorite. He has a terrific partner, and a really neat group of residents that he's enjoying learning from and teaching.  Like the other facets of our move, however, there are challenges along with the joys. The burden of patient need far outweighs the resources available. There are limited tools and implants in the operating rooms, and delays in presentation to the hospital complicate many surgeries. Far surpassing all the challenges though, is the privilege of caring for a people that is impoverished and oppressed while sharing the love of Jesus and proclaiming that his Kingdom is here.

Please pray with us through our continued transition; pray that we would acknowledge, but not dwell on, the yuck ducks, and lean into the yum ducks. Pray that we would be united as a family in the mission to proclaim Christ through medicine. Pray for John's work in the hospital, for the residents he works with and the patients they treat. We thank you for these prayers as we know that they will be heard and answered by our faithful God. 

In conclusion, we'd like to leave you with our kids' answers when we asked them for their favorite part of our move: 

Gabe: "The swing in front of our house!" (Where he and countless other children terrify their parents by trying to swing higher than the rooftops.)

Grace: "Pancakes" 

From the mouths of babes.....



Wednesday, August 21, 2019

We have a date!





Grace with our "batman bins" (as Gabe calls them), awaiting their voyage across the Atlantic.


Hello Friends,

We're excited to announce that we have an official departure date for Kenya! We - along with our twelve crates and stroller - will depart for Kenya October 4th. We originally planned to leave in September, but were delayed a bit while awaiting a Kenyan work permit. As is often the case when things don't go according to plan, the delay has actually turned out to be a blessing. The past several months have been fairly hectic, and we're finding that a period of rest is just what we need before we undertake the transatlantic move. Thanks be to God that He is in the business of going before us, and knows our needs better than we do.

"The heart of a man plans his way,
but the Lord establishes his steps. " Proverbs 16:9

Other news:

We recently completed our training with the CMDA and World Medical Mission. We were officially commissioned at the Samaritan's Purse headquarters, which was a really neat experience. It was great to spend time with staff at WMM, and our "classmates" in the post residency program who will be serving as medical missionaries all over the globe.

While we get ready to leave for Kenya, our home base is John's parents' farm in Ohio. We have been able to spend time this summer with both sides of our family, which has been precious.


Living the farm life!

We are making good progress in raising our financial support. We are so thankful for the generosity of many of you reading this. If you are still interested in partnering with us in this way, you can do so here.

Please pray for us as we spend quality time with family and friends before we say goodbye in October. Please also pray for Gabe and for Grace, that the upcoming adjustments would go relatively smoothly, and that God would give us grace, humility and hearts of service as we move.



Friday, March 15, 2019

About Us


John, Ali, Gabriel, and Grace

Hello friends! Thank you for taking a moment to visit our blog. We're looking forward with great anticipation to our service at Tenwek Hospital in Bomet, Kenya. This blog will be a platform for us to to share our experiences with you and keep you informed about the work God is doing at Tenwek. In this first post, we'll share some of our story, give you an idea of what our ministry will look like, and  share with you a few ways you can partner with us. 
Even before we decided to pursue medical careers, both Ali and I (John) felt - at different times, perhaps - the call toward cross cultural missions. Neither of us knew what that might look like, nor did we actively pursue it as we moved forward in our careers. Ali went to PA school and I to medical school at the University of Toledo, and we worked hard toward our degrees. After what Ali would call an uncharacteristic battle with indecision, I realized (with a little help from my inner farm boy and shop enthusiast) that orthopedics was the specialty for me. We matched to Mayo Clinic for orthopedic residency and packed our bags for Rochester, MN.

Eventually, as the pressures of a challenging residency hit in full force, I began to see a prestigious career and luxurious lifestyle as the light at the end of the tunnel; a motivation for the tough days ahead. In 2015, God used a particularly difficult time in residency to push me to the point where all those things I was looking forward to were just not enough. During this time, God steered me toward II Corinthians 4 and 5, where Paul explains his motivations for being a missionary. A few verses in particular impacted me, including II Corinthians 5:14-15:

 For Christ's love compels us since we have reached this conclusion: If One died for all, then all died. And he died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for the One who died for them and was raised. 

God reminded me that he gave the ability to become an orthopedic surgeon so that I could serve him and his Kingdom, not just pursue my own interests. As Ali and I prayed about the implications of this, we once again sensed God's call toward cross cultural missions. Around that time, I re-visited a blog which had captured my attention in medical school - a blog much like this one. It chronicled the story of Dan Galat and his family as he served as a missionary orthopedic surgeon in Kenya. I emailed Dan, who is himself a former Mayo Clinic resident. He encouraged us to visit, and in 2016, Ali and I both traveled to Kenya.

In our 2016 trip, we spent one week with Dan at Kijabe Hospital, where Dan has been for the past two years, and then another week at Tenwek Hospital in Bomet, where Dan spent his first 7 years of ministry. The really neat thing about both of these hospitals is that not only do they provide desperately needed healthcare in Jesus' name, but they are also teaching hospitals. Both Tenwek and Kijabe have orthopedic residency programs designed to train orthopedic surgeons who are also Christian disciples and are committed to serving in a mission hospital in sub-Saharan Africa following completion of their training.


During our time in Kenya, we sensed God's call on our lives to serve at one of these hospitals in a full time capacity. God has since confirmed that call in numerous ways, and provided an avenue for us to  serve at Tenwek starting this fall through the Samaritan's Purse Post Residency Program. This two-year program is designed to transition graduating residents and fellows directly to the mission field following completion of their medical training.

My role at the hospital will consist of providing much needed orthopedic surgical care to the patients at Tenwek, and teaching and discipling residents in the process. Tenwek treats many patients affected by orthopedic trauma, including a large number of patients severely injured in motor vehicle accidents. Thus, much of my time will be spent providing fracture care. There is also a growing demand for hip and knee arthroplasty, and I hope to make this a significant portion of my practice as well. However, at the end of the day, the most important aspect of my job will not be creating perfect x-rays or good orthopedic outcomes (although I really like both of those things). In reality, the relationships I build with my patients and residents, and the opportunities to share Christ's love in the midst of challenging circumstances, will be the true fruit of the ministry.

For now, Ali plans to continue to stay at home full time with Gabe (3) and Grace (1) in order to help the whole family through the transition and to begin homeschooling for Gabe. Once we're settled, she may explore opportunities to use her skills as a physician assistant. I'm still working on her to join me in the orthopedic realm someday. 

Our current plans are to arrive in Kenya during fall 2019. As we prepare to go, we would like to invite you to partner with us in our ministry. There are several key ways in which you can do this. First and foremost, we need your prayer. Our ministry at Tenwek will be full of challenges, and we will depend on your prayer and God's guidance to make it through. Secondly, please consider financially supporting our ministry.  We're blessed to have a portion of our expenses covered by Samaritan's Purse, but we will require additional funds for travel, medical benefits for Ali and the kids, as well as resident education and hospitality. We are prayerfully hoping to build up a team of people who will commit to praying for us regularly and supporting us financially each month. Finally, please stay in touch! Without maintaining our connection to you, we might miss God's vision for our mutual encouragement. We would love to connect with you, whether it be through this blog, or via email, face time, Facebook, or a face to face visit. Our home will always be open to you. :)


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A Few Musings on Uncertainty and other Updates

K Descent from the Cross, Rembrandt, 1634 Psalm 34:8 Taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed is the one who takes refuge i...