Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Video Tour of a Village Medical Clinic in Burkina Faso

This is a video I took on my most recent trip to Burkina Faso where I led a medical team of 4 doctors (three of them from Ecuador and one now living in Ghana), 2 nurses (one from Ecuador and one from Idaho), an Engineer (from the UK now living in Ghana) and my uncle Wally McClure (from Nevada).  We were there a little over 2 weeks and saw hundreds of patients in two villages.  A great team and an amazing trip.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The First Noel

This blog has gotten entirely too serious.  So in case you think that our life is all death and doctors and no fun...

Tali's golden retriever pup, Noel, is 7 months old now and is super social and is the darling of the ranch. She is the one that sticks her head in a boot to go to sleep when she gets stressed.

Everyone raves about her.  "She is the best addition to the ranch."  Maybe we can get our vet bills paid for. The kids are crazy in love with her.  She is constantly stealing their boots, hats, socks, you name it and the kids and the parents just LOVE it.  We're glad they love it cause we can't get her to stop taking things.  She doesn't chew them up.  She just takes them and carries them off and then abandons them.  So there are socks, gloves, hats, boots and shoes in the weirdest places all over the ranch.  After a while we just started leaving them.

She loves, loves, loves water.  It kinda clued us in this winter when she started blowing bubbles in her water bowl and then jumping in it to watch it splash all over my walls and floors.  Or she would drop a piece of food in her bowl to watch it bob around.  I had to start taking her water bowl away from her the minute she was done drinking.  Ginger, our 8 yr old mutt, finally got disgusted and stopped trying to lick her dry.

Then Noel started running across the frozen pond and fell through twice, but that didn't stop her.  Now that it's summer she is out there paddling around in the pond at least twice a day just looking around at the blue sky.  "Ahhh, this is the life!.  Got my own pond, my own pool, my own fish.  Even had my own ducks for a while, until they flew away after giving up their quest for nesting in MY pond.  What were they thinking???  They never asked.  Hmmph!  The nerve!"

She loves to go fishing with Nate or dad and when they get a fish close to shore she is out in the water waiting to walk the fish up to the bank.  She tries to retrieve them, but the wiggling freaks her out.  The other day she put her entire head under trying to see the fish and dad said you could see the bubbles coming up like she was trying to smell it.  She came up with a dirt clod instead.  The guests just think it's hilarious.  She stinks like fish 24/7.  She came trotting up with a fish one day and carried it around by the tail like she was afraid to get slimy (it was already dead).  The kids all thought she was a hero.

Her name is Noel, but we call her Noezer because her nose is constantly in things, or Snickers because when she gets wet she gets out and rolls in the dirt, of all things, and is caramel on top, chocolate dipped on the bottom and just a little bit nuts. Or Pigpen because there is a cloud of dust where-ever she walks.  My (Rachelle's) carpets will never, ever be the same. I throw a fit and won't let her in when she is black and Nate and Tali think THAT is funny until I make them wash her off. Then the joke is on them.  I told Tali she could help me vacuum every day this summer.  She said that was over the top and I said no way.  You can see the dust billow when you walk.  All thanks to Noel...or whatever her name is.

We had a group of indigenous folks here for some meetings and they would take their shoes off at the doors because it was mud season.  Yep, you guessed it.  Shoes ended up out in the snow, the mud, all over the place.  Noel is now famous all over the Amazon and known as La Ladrona, the thief.  I've never known a dog with so many names.

Nate and Tali were in the pool the other day and Noel went running up the path, under the fence and didn't slow down before plunging into the pool, chocolate and all.  The housekeeper had just been saying how some days it takes her forever to clean the pool.  Ummm, yeah, about that....

Some nights Noel gets to running circles around the couch and when she runs by Ginger, Ginger will bark each time like she is counting.  They did that 7 times one night.  I think Ginger would be glad to give you a puppy.  Anybody.  Anyone???

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Mahima's Faith

(Not her real name for security—Mahima, a real Nepali name, means “glorious”)

On a recent trip to Nepal with a work team from Bethel Church in Indiana, we studied the book of Philippians during team devotions. We all keyed in on the verses from Chapter 2 where Paul admonishes us to imitate Christ’s humility. He says beginning in verse 3 “… in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Later he says that Christ “… made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant.” Despite the lively discussion on the passage, we had no idea of the living lesson that was in store for us.

As HCJB Global Asia Pacific Regional Director Ty Stakes strummed worship songs on a small travel guitar, we all joined in to sing praises to our God. I couldn’t help but watch Mahima who, even though she knew hardly any English, would join in 100%. Her face would light up, her hands raised in joy, and I knew her heart was pouring out praises to her Savior.

Several of the local Christians, only about eight or 10 of them total in this mostly-Hindu village, would sit with us as we read the word together each morning. We’d bounce worship songs back and forth, one in Nepali and the next in English. But Mahima most of all seemed to revel in the fellowship. Her whole posture was joyous and her smiles lit up her face and radiated into the space around her. Seeing her smile was like a strong cup of coffee on a jetlagged morning—both of which the team sorely needed.

Later in the week more of her story emerged. She had paid dearly for professing her faith in Jesus. When she became a Christian her husband and oldest son both shunned her completely. She was forced to leave home and find ways to care for her young son on her own. Fellow Christians helped her out when they could. So when our work team showed up, effectively doubling the number of Christians in the small village, Mahima was hired to help take care of us. She washed dishes, fetched wood and served our team in countless unseen ways. “Taking the very nature of a servant” with a joy that could come only as fruit from the Spirit of Christ in her. Mahima is living for something much greater than the suffering this world has brought her.

It is one thing to read stories about Christian brothers and sisters that are persecuted for their faith. It is much more powerful to see it face to face. It is yet again exponentially more humbling to have that saint wash your dishes and scrub the outhouse. I should have been washing her feet. I should have been listening to the lessons she could teach me. I should have been trumpeting her amazing faith both near and far.

But I got the sense she really wouldn’t have liked all the fuss. In all honesty, Mahima was joyful and smiling because she knows Jesus is much more valuable than anything she lost. It’s not that she doesn’t feel the struggles and pain that have come her way because of her faith, but rather that she feels the rewards that much more poignantly. When our Christian walk isn’t even a minor inconvenience to us it is less noticeable, unfocused. Faith that is challenged is stronger. And Mahima had it in bucket loads. 

Don’t we typically want big faith without paying for it? I don’t want the struggles or the persecution that wring that kind of faith out of my heart with a painful twist. But the bible shows again and again that God uses struggles and persecution to nurture strong faith. I’m a weakling in comparison to Mahima.

I can still remember her tears as the work team boarded the bus to leave the village. She wept openly and clasped the men’s hands one by one to say goodbye, hugging the women team members fiercely. Her last act of service to me is the lasting memory of her fearless faith and hunger for Christian fellowship despite the persecution. Philippians 1: 29: For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him. (NIV)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Rachelle's November Journal 2012

November journal "Bits and Pieces" 2012


Something I’ve been pondering a lot.  Morbid--perhaps. Certainly from the perspective of a pre-Christian.  But from those of us who will only lose our bodies there is nothing morbid about it.  Perhaps we should think about it more than we do.  Would we fear it less if we pondered it more?  It is natural to fear the unknown so maybe we should ponder death and all it’s implications from time to time. I think of it a lot these days as we wait for little Cedric to leave us.  I have never prayed for anyone to die like I have for Cedric....I'm not sure how I feel about that.  Yet he and his parents suffer so that it is heartbreaking.

Death....That leads me to the spiritual path our nation is choosing to embrace.  I found myself  feeling like our nation is dying.  Kinda like the fall of Rome.  Or of other countless nations over the centuries.  Scares me.  But then the Lord got a hold of me to remind me that I have nothing to fear; not death...nor life for that matter!  Because it is living that often scares me more than the dying part. Living with the choices politicians are making, living with MS... But nothing can separate me (or my kids, grandchildren, great-grandchildren etc) from God’s love. So when this "grand" country chooses which way it will go--with or without God--God's love will still be available for those who love Him.  When/if this disease takes away my mind and basic body functions, I will still have God's love.  And that is exactly what I will need.  Whew!

Had my 6 month MRI yesterday.  Still have one lesion(only) in my brain which is good, but now have one in my neck which would probably account for all the neck pain.  And the doc says for the bladder trouble too.  He seemed a bit concerned, but did not voice it.  He’s about as communicative as a rock.  His poor wife. Poor kids, too.  But he is still a good doc.  Usually good doctor and bad communicator don’t go hand in hand, but somehow it works for him.  Most of the great docs I've had were great communicators, so this guy is an oxymoron.  And no, I did not call him a moron.  And yes, there are some who I have called just that. 

Feel like I have this dark, cold hard blackness wandering around my body just waiting to pounce where-ever it feels like sinking its metal claws into.  Not a real warm fuzzy feeling.  But it is still subject to God’s will, sooo….so there!  You big bully you!  God’s in control of MS because I’ve asked Him to be.  

Been struggling with feeling like I’ve been put up on a high shelf and shoved to the back where its all dusty and dark.  I'm not much a part of society.  Then as I was worshiping today I realized that my pride is getting in the way.  The reason I want to do something worthwhile and be somebody is just ugly old pride, which God detests, by the way. (NOTE TO SELF)  And, by the way, I am a friend of God.  What more do I need?  I am honored to be called His friend.  Who am I that You are mindful of me?  Who am I, Lord?  Thank you for letting me be part of Your family and Your Kingdom.

Journal excerpt: 9a.m. Sun 11/18/10/2012  15 min after Cedric went to heaven

The words that echo through my mind conflict with one another:  he is gone and, sweet angels sing thee to thy rest.  Both true.  They should be comforting because he no longer suffers, no longer shudders and spasms with seizures, no longer struggles to breathe, no longer eats through a tube...but all I can think is that he is gone.  And in my minds eye I see the grief on my sister's and Wes' face and the confusion on Dothan's as they hold his body.  

Somewhere out of the darkness of grief the Lord brings a glimpse of Cedric doing things in heaven he never would have done on earth:  smiling, sitting before the throne, talking, singing and dancing in joy to Jesus, cuddling with His Savior, running to throw his arms around his sister Alethea, telling her all about her courageous parents and brother on earth--how they have brought great honor and glory to the Lord, greeting relatives and all of the saints who have gone before him.  Yet, he is not with us any more.  Sometimes reality hits like a freight train at the worst of moments and leaves our hearts splattered on the tracks.  I can just see that Cedric can't stop smiling.  He has a beautiful smile.  One that we never got to see.  We will someday.  Someday feels like a long way off for a grieving mother and father, Lord.  

Only You can heal a broken heart such as theirs.  Only You can catch their tears and use them to heal them.  For as some wise soul said, "The soul would have no rainbow without tears."  Please, Father, give them a rainbow, a promise today of great joy and rewards and healing.  Carry them through this valley of the shadow of death.  I suppose it is only a shadow of death because it is not a death of separation from You, but one of separation from loved ones, a temporary one at that.  Climbing out of this familiar valley will be too...familiar.  How do you do it twice as a parent?  I know many have and have survived, but I look at it and it seems too steep and too difficult, too dark, too slippery  The footholds too muddy and too small, the handholds too sharp.  All I can hear is the silence.  Let there be many who walk alongside them, Lord. Some to hold up the light of encouragement when all seems too dark even if it is in the quietness of prayer from afar.  Some to be physically present with them on the darkest of days to give Natasha and Wes a boost up the next step.  And during those times when they hold their heads in despair and pain, feeling abandoned by You, surround them with Your love and Your people.  Do not allow them to give in to despair.  Let this be the greatest healing they ever experience.

Jesus, Cedric is their second Isaac.  They are slowly placing him on Your altar and letting him go.  Alethea was their first Isaac.  You did not give them a replacement of a ram in a thicket.  It is impossible to understand why.  Yet it is as it is.  Please honor them for continuing to follow and love You.  I ask that You will lead Dothan to do the same as his parents do in their faith and in their grief.  I know You shoulder the weight of their grief regardless of how it feels to them.  Oh Father, carry us all.


We went to the viewing immediately when we got to Wichita.  Cedric looked so healthy and peaceful laying in his little coffin in his striped shirt with two green frogs on the front and wrapped in a blue blanket and with a stuffed bear sitting next to him.  I keep trying to remember him that way instead of how ill and exhausted he looked in pictures at the end of his life.  He looked like Tash--a Yost.  Nate wept and I think would have sobbed had he had some privacy.  My dad and brother cried as well.  How can you not when it is a sweet 7 month old baby who looks pretty normal and so happy?

We said goodbye to Cedric the day after Thanksgiving.  The funeral was very moving and so hard.  Tali and I just cried and cried and cried.  For some reason it seemed so much harder than Alethea’s.  Tash said that she had more hope this time around that Cedric would be healed.  Wes said he had none this time from the moment he found out she was pregnant.  
The morning after the funeral Dothan woke up and ask Tash to pray to Jesus to bring Cedric back to life “tomorrow”.  Faith.  We all jumped in to tell him that Cedric wanted to stay in heaven but I wondered later what that said to 5 yr old Dothan.  That Cedric doesn’t  want to be with his brother? 
It is funny how life is made up of snapshots of memories.  Some bring  joy and others great sadness.  I will never forget the sight of Dothan leaning over Cedric’s coffin to give him a hug and a kiss.  It was hard to hold back a sob.  The next unforgettable snapshot was of Dothan running up to help Uncle Nate and Uncle Brandon carry his brother’s coffin.  Then I remember Tash leaning into Wes, burying her face in his shoulder trying to contain her grief.  I think my heart  broke into a million shards.
I kept jumping back in time to seven years before to another funeral for a little girl--Alethea's(Wes and Tash's daughter who also died from Zellweger syndrome).  It has seemed like a cruel repetition of the first nightmare.  This time we buried a little boy right next to his sister. There just “happened” to be a spot next to her grave.  And all I could think was how wrong it all seems.  I will never understand God’s reason or ways with these two precious children.  I do know that God chose Tash and Wes and Dothan very carefully for this.  He has certainly been very purposeful.  No doubt in my mind.
My heart feels like lead at times.  I wish I could take the grief for Tash.  Why oh why a second time?  I find myself begging and pleading and bargaining with God that nothing more should bring grief to Tash and Wes and Dothan.  But I find myself fearful because the unthinkable has already happened to them…twice.  Please, Lord, no more.  No more.  No more.  No more pain.  Give them a quiver full of children.  Tash once said that they wanted 10 and then after they had their second Zellweger child Wes said that they would have to give up their dreams of a big family.  But you are a God of dreams—a dream-giver.  Give them the deepest desires of their hearts.  Beyond what they’ve even known they’ve wanted.  Maybe the physical pain I feel is just  the grief I feel on their behalf.  Oh Father, have mercy on them.  Please fill their family with great peace and joy now.  Heal them deeply.  Meet them deep down.  Let this be the start of great healing and of brand new beginnings.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

What Francisco Taught Me

I just spent two weeks with an awesome team from First Baptist Church of Norway, Michigan working in Quito, Ecuador.  We worked with a cooperating ministry there called Pan de Vida (Bread of Life).   The team would run a Vacation Bible School (VBS) with the kids in the mornings and then go to work on replacing some old rotten benches in the yard with a new style of benches made from cement and treated lumber in the afternoons. Pan de Vida’s main ministry is to feed some of the poorest people in Quito and then try and improve the lives of a select focus group of their main beneficiaries who have shown ongoing, concerted interest in improving their lives and breaking the cycle of poverty they are often trapped in. The kids who attended the VBS were the children of this main focus group.
Francisco and Courtney

One of the kids I met was named Francisco.  Francisco was conspicuous because he obviously wanted to be loved so badly. He was not shy about initiating interaction with me and was the first to climb up into my arms—and the arms of most of the rest of the team.  It seemed like Francisco simply couldn’t soak up enough love.  He wasn’t happy unless he was the center of someone’s attention. One of his favorite team members was 16 year old Courtney, whose beautiful blond hair garnered lots of attention all week.  One day Francisco got in this rut where he’d tap Courtney on the shoulder to get her attention and then point up into the sky.  When Courtney would look up, Francisco would clumsily “tickle” her under the chin.  Francisco would laugh at this hysterically. It was cute the first five times and crossed into annoying shortly after.  But this didn’t deter Francisco, who probably did this routine upwards of a hundred times , causing Courtney to—out  of survival—avoid Francisco part of the day. I watched this and learned.  When Francisco tried the routine on me I let him get a laugh once or twice and then quickly set him down and went to do something else.  I wouldn’t have been nearly as patient with him as Courtney was.
Patti, Francisco and Courtney
Not that Francisco doesn’t deserve some patience. Like most of the kids at Pan de Vida Francisco doesn’t come from the best family situation.  His mom is a harsh lady who likely has a sad story all her own. You can see it in her eyes that flash anger and fear with just a glance. His father wasn’t on the scene and he has siblings from other fathers.  Love, when absent from a family, leaves all kinds of holes that get stuffed with poor substitutes.  And Francisco’s missing love doesn’t always find love.  Abuse is common and addiction is a close companion amongst these broken family lives.   I’m sure Francisco’s love vacuum is huge and sucks like a shop vac. 
Situations like Francisco’s aren’t an easy fix.  That’s why the folks at Pan de Vida have plenty of job security as well as an abundance of situations to pray for. While food and assistance are a welcome gift, the real changed lives come when Christ shows up.  Our team’s job was to pour out as much love into that group of love-sucking kids as we possibly could.  Hugs, playtime and lots of attention with a loving touch were the tools we used to try and be the hands of Jesus to those kids.  I pray that even though this group of Michigan Gringos and myself aren’t there any longer, that our presence is now a fond memory filled with love for Francisco and the other kids. I know they ate it up while we were there.
I stayed in Ecuador a few days after the team returned to wrap up the logistics and pay bills for lodging and transport.  But it gave me some time to think. In the middle of the night before I left to catch my flight to Colorado, God kept reminding me about Francisco.
Katie, Francisco, Will and Courtney
 Finally I realized how similar I am to him. Just like Francisco, I tend to turn toward imperfect things for fulfillment and spend an annoying amount of time chasing after poor substitutes for God’s love.  I try to fill that “God-shaped hole” in my life with things like food, acceptance, material things and even ministry activity.  The real deal is Christ.  He’s the one that can provide love and purpose. He’s the only one that can fill the void we feel as humans.  Although Courtney and the rest of the team did a great job, God’s the only one that can love Francisco all the time and without losing patience.  And he doesn’t run away when Francisco’s tricks get annoying. For God so loved Francisco that He gave his only son so that if Francisco believes in Him he won’t perish and will have eternal life. Deep down we are all a lot like Francisco.  That’s what Francisco taught me.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

This is the view from my bedroom window in Quito right after sunrise.  The mountain is Cotopaxi--an active volcano that pokes up to 19,347 feet. Not a bad way to wake up.  Thanks, God.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

On April 2nd in Wichita, Kansas, my nephew Cedric John Smith was born without much fanfare or hoopla.

No one was really happy.

You see, Cedric was created with a problem.  Who knew that peroxisomes were such important things?  Or that the lack of functional peroxisomes in the cells could result in what sounds like ingredients in Krispy Kreem donuts—very long chain fatty acids (VLCFA) and branched chain fatty acids (BCFA).  Both definitely sound like they can kill you.

Cedric has a rare genetic disorder called Zellweger Syndrome.  Cedric’s parents found out while he was in the womb.  In a cruel game of genetic roulette it was their second child with this disease.  Sometimes life sucks.

In this case, Cedric isn’t—sucking that is.  He can’t swallow and gets his food through a tube that goes down his nose and into his stomach.  Every three hours you hook him up to a special pump that drains the contents of a plastic bag into his stomach bypassing his mouth altogether. Flavor may be something Cedric never appreciates.  He can’t hear well. He has seizures.  He isn’t expected to live very long.

But his parents are amazing. They hold him and coo to him and talk to him.  They get up at midnight and 3am without grumbling. They know in a matter of months they will be planning a funeral but they don’t hold back their love, giving it freely amidst tears of sadness and coping. 

We weep with them.

They know what to expect this time because  seven years ago they had a girl named Alethea Loy  with the same thing.  Back then her parents did the same thing-- love when love is hard. Give everything to a losing cause.  Bankrupt their souls for the life of a dying baby.

To be honest, Cedric is creating issues for me. See God, I have a problem.  Cedric is making it hard to love you.  When I hold, Cedric I see the precious face and feel the warmth of life and begin to feel the love for him.  But it hurts. I get sad and cry way more than I like to. I make stupid jokes to cover up that I’m crying.  No one laughs. For days at a time.

I can’t help but ask that dreaded question, “Why?”  Why couldn’t he be normal?  Why couldn’t you have answered our prayers for healing? Why did it have to be this way a second time for Natasha and Wes?
For sure “Your ways are not my ways,”  and I say it as a taunt in my anger.  At times like this and with Rachelle’s illness and during Natalia’s migraines—all things that I’m helpless to change but want to desperately—I feel like a pawn in a giant chess game.   We are getting sacrificed and used.  I wonder if you care.

But “Why?” is probably the wrong question.  I think asking “Who?” is a better question that leads down a better path.   Who are you?  You once asked one of your followers, “Who do you say that I am?”

Your word shows a creator God weaving an incredibly complicated plot in the universe.  We are part of the story.
Natalia holding Cedric
The Smith Family--Natasha, Cedric, Dothan and Wes