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When Service is a Struggle

A Layne Post

I love what we do. I am a people person.

I love the people that have come into our lives and stolen our hearts.

I love the diversity we have seen over the years.

I love the ones with whom we had that instantaneous connection. Ones we liked from our first introduction.

I love the ones that grew on me as the weeks went on, that slowly opened up to trust and let us in.

But there are some others… let’s be real. When you are in people ministry there are always going to be a few that are difficult. We are not exempt in our compassion ministry. We talk a lot about loving people well and about serving, even sometimes about overcoming challenges, like wounds, but we haven’t talked much about the people that have come through that have made us want to scream, made us want to kick them out, or perhaps have made me want to throw a food item at their head. (Note: I did refrain. No food was thrown.)

Serving people can be HARD. And keeping a humble heart and forgiving 70×7 times can be exhausting. Finding the all too blurry line between generosity and tough love can be confusing. Attempting to facilitate peace in a community of the sick while feeling undermined by a poisonous drip of constant negativity from within… that’s hard. We aren’t that good at it.

And even when we want Jesus to meet that person and change their heart, when we want to love extravagantly and see freedom and healing come to a soul; it isn’t something we can force. We can pray for the Holy Spirit to draw, daily forgiving and serving.

We are currently in a season like this, and we aren’t perfect, and we don’t always love extravagantly. Sometimes it is easier to avoid a person than to humble myself, go out of my way, and ask them about their day and their family. Some days it is easier to just come home rather than purposely stop and get their favorite soda to bring home as a treat.

I know, however, the Lord can work in our souls during these seasons and even when we don’t see change in a person, we never know what seeds are being planted. And so we trust Him, and we continue serving, even when it feels like struggle.

Would you pray for us as we try to lead Casa Ahavá over the next couple months?

Thanks so much. We love you and cherish your support.

 

I am a Son of God

A Jon Post

Luis, father of 4 sits in my back yard reading a paperback New Testament. My children laugh, play, fight and scream nearby, all at once asking for independence and constant attention. My wife stands in the kitchen preparing a meal for our hungry children and her goofy, bearded husband. I’m sitting with my back against Casa Ahavá’s wall next to Luis, watching my daughters bounce from dog to toy to treehouse to slide to ground.

Smile

Smile

“What have you been reading in there, Luis?” I ask, trying to be as respectful as possible.

And a conversation centered around a scripture in the Epistle of First John begins.

The afternoon draws on, the mosquitos come out, the dusk draws the curtains of sunlight down and my kids have been called into the kitchen where my wife has finished dinner prep. God’s gift of abundant grace enables her to recognize the import and urgency of the moment and she selflessly gathers all four children to the dinner table, leaving Luis and me to watch the sun’s droopy eyes close over another day as we talk about the right to be called God’s children, not just His creation.

“What do you think it takes to be called God’s son, Luis?” I ask.

“I don’t know, Jon.”

So we talk more, the sun finally falls asleep and the stars wake up and still we talk.

Then a whispered prayer, an urgent voice, and a resounding chorus of angels rejoice as Luis and I look at each other. “You have the right to be called a son of God now, Luis.”

“Yes, brother Jon.” He replies, “Yes, I am God’s son now.”

Luis had a tumor pressing on his esophagus at the beginning of the year. He noticed the discomfort, went to a provincial hospital, had an x-ray, and a surgeon scheduled him for a surgery that was never explained to him nor was he asked if he’d like to proceed. He trusted the fledgling health system here in Mozambique and went under the knife.

4 months later I found myself sitting with the head oncologist who looked at Luis’ patient history and a current x-ray of his esophagus. The tumor, barely touched in the surgery, had grown and closed a badly mangled esophagus that had been stretched to (needlessly) bypass his stomach. In every sense of the phrase except literal, Luis had been butchered.

“This cannot be fixed, Jon”, said the oncologist. “We can only give so many chemotherapy treatments, but we can’t fix this.” He gestured in futility at the patient file on his desk.

Some weeks later, Luis and I talked about his prognosis. We used some awful words;

Terminal

Palliative

Cancer

Death

And we used some wonderful ones;

Care

Care

Family

Hope

God

Life

Now Luis lives with a tube inserted into his upper intestine where he injects liquefied food with a large syringe in order to stay alive. He cannot swallow, he cannot go anywhere without a small tupperware container to put his saliva in, he never tastes food.

And I’ve never seen him go for 10 minutes without smiling.

You… Yes you, supporter/prayer-partner/curious reader… You would be so proud to see the way Luis cares for his roommate who is blind in one eye and in consistent pain. He cooks for him, cleans the room alone, holds his hand to walk him across a dangerous road, gently and graciously teaches him the game of checkers, and never once complains about his own pain or discomfort.

You… yes YOU, reading this right now… If you consider yourself a child of God… you can be extremely proud of your brother, Luis. He will probably make it home to his Father before you do, and you will probably not meet him until you get there too…

But be proud of your brother, Luis.

Sons of God

Sons of God

He Chose Love

A Layne Post

My stomach turned, my lip curled. It was involuntary, but guilt washed over me like a flood. I felt unloving. I took a big breath through my mouth, careful not to let air in through my nose. I poured lots of detergent and carefully poured the clothes into the washer making sure nothing touched my hands.

Bandages

Bandages

Wounds stink. It isn’t something someone can control. Baths don’t help. It comes with advanced cancer, cancer like many have probably never seen. We change and clean bandages. But the fact is we don’t have access to nice charcoal bandages that can help with the stench; they are expensive and not practical. And so we have learned to breathe through our mouths, and when the person is near, we are careful to control our facial muscles, willing them to stay steady and not move, in an effort to honor the person and discredit the wound, in an effort to love.

The washing machine played its little chime from the veranda. The laundry was done.

I carefully lifted a shirt and with trepidation I sniffed. The smell was gone, washed away by streams of cleansing water. Into the dryer they went. An hour later I pulled clean fresh clothes out, carefully folded them and walk out back.

Gratefulness. I was greeted by a man physically suffering beyond what most of us will ever know. He with all humility, not weakness mind you, but humility, offered thanks for my small gesture.

Sometimes loving comes easy. But then there are other times that loving is a choice. Sometimes it is a matter of taking a deep breath, moving forward and serving, even when everything in your body tells you to back up.

I wonder if the Lord felt the same way. Our sins like gaping cancerous wounds attached to our bodies destined to die. Perhaps His lip curled as He took a deep breath through His mouth and stepped towards us, being birthed onto this earth, choosing to move forward in deep love, honoring the persons and not the wounds. And then as the blood of Christ fell like a flood spilt upon the ground, our stench was washed away.

Will we, too, respond in humble gratefulness, aware of the stench our sins put off? Have we been washed in the blood? Maybe, though our bodies were born with stench of our sin, we can offer incense and be called His?

He stepped toward us. He chose love.

The First to Cry

A Jon Post

We’d just gone to the beach… just spent a day together as a family laughing and dipping our toes into the cool waters of the Indian Ocean as it lapped gently against Maputo’s shoreline… just driven through Maputo’s “downtown” area, smiling and marveling at the engineering and architecture that went into creating the bustling city.

Monday was a good day.

That night Maria walked into our kitchen.

“Can I come in?” She called.

“Don’t ask me that!” I joked over my shoulder from the stove, “Just come in! It’s your house! You can’t ask if you’re allowed into your own kitchen!”

“I just received a phone call.” She told me.

I could hear the concern in her voice…. hear the pain behind the unspoken words left off the end of that sentence. I stopped what I was doing and looked at her. I could see the tears brimming in her eyes, the sorrow disfiguring her face like a hurricane ripping through a city.

“My husband was walking home from work and was hit by a car.”

I held my tongue. My American tendency to draw out all relevant information with a flurry of questions stilled and I held her hand and waited for her to continue at her own pace.

“He didn’t come home last night and my brother found him in the hospital this afternoon.”

A small relief. He is still alive.

“He wants to talk to you.”

I looked at her outstretched arm and the phone nestled in her quivering hand. The Southern African reliance on community in tragedy is a weighty thing. When there is bad news to be shared, often times it is shared around those most profoundly affected, especially when the news is shared over the phone. This is a good practice when emotional and spiritual support is vital. It was humbling and honoring to be asked to be a part of this for Maria, so recently a member of Casa Ahavá.
I accepted the phone and held a brief conversation with Maria’s older brother. Her husband is alive and conscious, but is in critical condition after being hit by a car from behind and sustaining deep road burns on his face and arms. His back and is in a lot of pain and the doctor suspects a cracked pelvis.

I looked at Maria. She sat on our kitchen bench looking at me, waiting to hear what I had to say. I assured her brother on the phone that I would get Maria to her children and husband as quickly as possible and we ended the call.

Layne had heard the commotion and we all sat together in our little kitchen. I explained to Maria what her brother had shared with me about her husband and assured her that, from the sounds of it, her husband should recover.

And we prayed. All of us held hands and I sat on my tile floor and we prayed. Maria on my couch, battling leukemia 1200 kilometers from her children whose daddy lay in a hospital bed in pain.

We pray still.

This Friday, Maria will have another consult with her doctor and, as long as her body is responding well to her latest medication, we will put her on a bus that night and send her to her suffering family.

I saw a movie last night that detailed part of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. At one point in the movie Dr. King looks at a grieving parent, lost in the throes of agony. “There are no words” Dr. King says through tears to this weeping parent. “But one thing I do know for certain,” he said,

“God was the first to cry”

God was the first to cry for Maria when her body betrayed her to leukemia.

God was the first to cry when her husband lay on a dark road, covered in blood and dirt.

And God was the first to cry when Maria’s children spent the night alone, both father and mother in need of Jehovah Rapha, the Lord who Heals.

So we cry with our Lord.

Maria

Maria

Our Lord who comforts His beloved. Our Lord who speaks tenderly to His dove who hides in desert and mountainside.

Casa Ahavá Re-Opens!

A Layne Post

I remember the first morning without patients. We had temporarily closed Casa Ahavá so that we could adjust to being a family of 6, and our home felt so empty. I woke up to make coffee, glanced out the kitchen window and mourned not having anyone out there to check on.

But time passed by, as it does. Selah was born, and our lives adjusted once more. I became accustomed to Jon having a bit more time, him being around every morning when we woke up, having a predictable schedule, and having our evenings all to ourselves. There was a certain ease in that lifestyle that I enjoyed.

We took our trip up north, which went much different than expected, and then decided to give ourselves a week to recover from sickness. Finally the time had come to talk with the hospital staff about which patients would be good candidates for our project. I knew the day was approaching for another transition – the need to readjust to full time ministry from our home. I felt a bit nervous and apprehensive about life with four little ones, homeschooling, managing patients in the home, being constantly on-call, etc. Honestly, the selfish side of me wanted to hold on to the new easier life because, well, it was easier. But the part of me that knows Christ, knows that easier doesn’t mean happier and that there is a joy found in a life of service that cannot be attained in any other way.

After a few false starts, two ladies were set to move in – Melinha and Maria. On the day they were coming, I put a big  beef stew in the crockpot and tidied up the house. Jon ran out to their kitchen to make sure that things were ready. He happened to touch an appliance while out there and received a wicked shock. After touching one more thing and getting shocked yet another time, he concluded something was not grounded well. He called an electrician who could not come until the next day and so move-in day got postponed. It was frustrating.

The next day I turned on my crockpot again and filled it with beans. Maybe this day would actually go as planned. I got a call from Jon at the hospital and sure enough Melinha and Maria were coming, but so was a lady named Fruta, who was done with treatment and only waiting on transport the next week. No problem. I knew Fruta and liked her a lot.

They arrived, settled into their rooms, met our big ol’ dog Gasher, saw the markets on our road, and were ready to start life at Casa Ahavá.

Our home feels full again and our girls content to run around and giggle with the “ladies” out back. Just yesterday Jovie told me how she had eaten earlier with the ladies. I wondered if it was true or a part of my girls’ grand imaginative lives. Turns out it was true. Anaya and Jovie were happy to go sit in the kitchen and eat up the yummy traditional Mozambican food that their Tias had made.

I had no reason to be nervous. I love what we do, yes, even with the extra work and responsibility. Our lives are richer this way.

This is Fruta. Last night she boarded a bus and headed home, finally finished with her treatment. We were blessed to host her for a short stay, but excited for her to re-join her 3 children at home. She was easy going and the most comfortable of the group in our home. Let’s pray for an easy trip and for continued health.

Fruta

Fruta

This is Melinha. She will be here another week and a half. Fruta was her best friend, and I am sure she will be missing her. She is spunky and animated – full of facial expressions. She doesn’t speak Portuguese very well and we don’t speak the language where she is from up north, so it is comical at times, but we are managing with special thanks to the other patients for translating.

Melinha

Melinha

This is Maria. She has almost five more months with us. She is a hard worker and self-motivated. We knew her the least before coming to our home, but she has been nothing but delightful. She has five children at home, the youngest one is only one year old. I know it is difficult for her to be so far. We will try and send her home for a visit after another two treatments.

Maria

Maria

We have another two ladies in the line up to come and one man, who is set to come after his next treatment. We were encouraged that the hospital seemed as excited for us to restart as we were, and multiple people expressed that our absence was felt in the ward. The staff has been so supportive and helpful as we fill up our space here. We thank God for the partnership we have. To Him be the glory!