Monthly Archives: September 2013

Good News From Kenya

CNN doesn’t often paint a pretty picture of Kenya, or Africa in general.  Terrorism, HIV, malnutrition, dictatorships.  These make great headlines, generate web traffic, and sell papers.  But they don’t begin to tell the real story of Africa.  Kenya in particular has had a rough year in the press.  Reporters showed up in droves for our recent elections, anticipating a repeat of the widespread violence which followed the 2007 elections.  But they slunk quietly away as Kenyans went to the polls in record numbers, and peacefully refused to be pulled into tribal clashes.  Our current president and his deputy are on trial at the Hague for crimes against humanity, but the country moves forward and goes about its business.

Most recently, al shabaab, the Somali variant of al qaida, turned its hateful eye towards Kenya.  We’ve been enduring al shabaab attacks in Kenya since Kenyan forces assisted in ousting this terror group from Mogadishu and key Somali port towns in 2011.  Several church and bus bombings, and grenade assaults on restaurants or bars in Nairobi have kept Kenyans a bit on edge.  This past week saw Kenya grab the headlines for four consecutive days,

Siege at Westgate Mall

as al shabaab terrorists systematically killed scores of Kenyans and ex-pats and brought down a four story luxury shopping mall in Nairobi.   Al shabab  mocks the dead by Twitter and promises more attacks.

What CNN may not portray is the gentle, compassionate response to these terrible events.  During the siege, the terrorists calmly interviewed customers, to separate Muslims from non-Muslims.  Muslims were set free, but those who could not recite verses from the Koran or name relatives of Mohammed were summarily shot.  But stories are emerging of Muslims quietly writing Koranic verses on slips of paper and passing them to their Kenyan brothers and sisters to allow their escape.  Kenyans have rushed to provide blood donations, monetary support, and prayer for the injured and families of victims.  Somali Muslims were known to have put their lives at risk rushing to the aid of the injured in the mall.  For every spectacular evil, there are a thousand quiet, gentle acts of love and compassion.  Love wins.

Terrorism, HIV, malnutrition, dictatorships.  These are huge tragedies.  Too big to get your head around.  As individuals, we can feel powerless, unable to help.  But amidst these tragedies, lie opportunities to provide hope and bring healing.

Meet Jonah.

Jonah in his hut in Samburu

Jonah in his hut in Samburu

Jonah is eight, and lives in Samburu, the wild west of Kenya.  This remote desert region is known for its spectacular and deadly cattle raids between warring tribes.  Traditional village healers provide most of the health care.

In this setting, Jonah was unfortunate enough to contract tuberculosis (TB) of the spine.

Jonah's Spine distorted by tuberculosis

Jonah’s Spine distorted by tuberculosis

A scourge not seen in the west for a century, TB of the spine, or Pott’s disease, leads to a slow and painful death.  Without treatment, the spine is slowly dissolved, causing paralysis, respiratory  and kidney collapse, and death.  The medical term for the process is “caseous necrosis.”  Necrosis means death.  Caseous means cheese-like:  the body’s tissues become dissolved and take on the consistency of cottage cheese.

A missionary lady in this remote region found Jonah lying in his hut, covered in a blanket.  As the spinal cord is compressed by the infection, the legs become paralyzed.  Tragically, the nerves to the bowels and bladder are also damaged, so Jonah was lying in filth, despite the best efforts of his loving family.  When found, Jonah had only weeks to live.

As often happens here, life hangs by a thread.  An email from the missionary found its way to Kijabe.  Steve, a missionary pilot, arranged to land in the Samburu bush, and fly Jonah to our precarious dirt strip perched on the edge of the Rift Valley.

Jonah’s mother and father had to make a gut-wrenching decision.  They released their gravely ill child to complete strangers, in the hope that he would return to them one day, cured of his illness.

Jonah arriving safely at Kijabe

Jonah arriving safely at Kijabe

As I approached the plane door, a strong smell of urine greeted me.  As I took Jonah in my arms, the warm moisture on my scrubs confirmed the fact that he had soaked his clothes.

As I carried him to the waiting vehicle, his bowels released inside the trousers acquired for him for his first trip outside Samburu.

We’ve admitted Jonah to the hospital, given him pain medications, hydration, nutrition, placed a catheter, and started a full course of TB treatment.  Though still paralyzed, he’s happy, comfortable, and clean.  Dr. Kinyua, one of our orthopaedic trainees, has taken it on himself to make sure Jonah gets some time in the beautiful African sunshine every day.

Jonah resting comfortably in his shared bed.

Jonah resting comfortably in his shared bed.

Here’s the good news:  with surgery, Jonah can have a normal life.  Even though Jonah has advanced destruction of his spine, and near complete paralysis of his legs, he has a good prognosis.  The surgery is extensive:  we must remove a rib, enter his chest cavity, remove the abscess from the spinal cord, and fuse the damaged spinal segments together.  Almost miraculously, the majority of patients we see in this condition walk into clinic months later!  With youth on his side,  there is hope for a normal life, except for a large incision on the left side of his chest and a somewhat stiff back!

Jonah’s family has no money and owns no cows. Of course, we will not let him leave Kijabe without surgery.   As a mission hospital, Kijabe’s fees are very low, even by African standards.  But with an average income of about $2 per day, many Kenyans cannot even afford to get to a hospital, let alone pay for surgery.  Jonah’s parents,

Jonah, his mother, and younger brother

Jonah, his mother, and younger brother

living in a remote village, have no access to the medical care their son needs.  But this story doesn’t have to end in tragedy.  We have the opportunity to provide hope for Jonah and many more patients like him.

Our church in Bend, Oregon has agreed to set up the “Orthopaedic Vulnerable Patients’ Fund” to pay for care of the most impoverished patients at Kijabe Hospital.  100% of funds donated go directly to pay for Jonah’s and other patients’ care.  Absolutely no administrative or other expenses are incurred:  your donation goes from your Visa or checking account directly to the care of the poorest of the poor.  Jonah’s surgery will cost about $1,000 US…$200,000 would pay for 200 vulnerable patients like Jonah.

The first donation has already been made.  Last summer, my nephews Thomas, Daniel, and Michael came to visit us in Oregon before we left for Africa.  They had saved up their money in their “brother fund” to buy souvenirs.  After they heard our presentation about Kenya, however, they asked if they could donate the money to help a child in Kenya.   So we now have a balance of $97.34 towards Jonah’s surgery!

Please share this post with anyone you can think of, by Facebook, Twitter, with Bill Gates, Bono, your book club, your school, or anyone else who might be interested.  Re-post it next week.  And the week after.  The people this will help have nowhere else to turn.

There are big tragedies in this world, and it’s easy to feel scared and helpless.  Take a stand against the chaos, and you protect that quiet gentle part of your heart that can die a little with each horror.  The good news is that love wins:  a thousand acts of quiet compassion are more powerful than the headlines.

Click on the link below for the secure on-line giving platform.  Yeah, this is a church website, but Jonah doesn’t care what your beliefs are!

Click on “Pay as a Guest”.

Under the drop down menu “Please choose a Fund”, select “Orthopaedic Vulnerable Patient Fund.”

Thank you for considering this request, and sharing it with your circle of friends.



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Coming up for air…

By:  Ann

It has been a hard few months.  Everybody tells you before you go on missions that it’s going to be difficult…that moving your entire family across the world is heart-wrenching…that assimilating into a new culture is one of the hardest things you will ever do…that you will doubt this decision at least a  hundred times within the first twelve months.  It is all true.

Although we have an assurance and peace that Kijabe is where we are supposed to be for this season of our lives, it has been a difficult time of transition.  We hit the ground running this time last year and didn’t stop until we literally ran out of steam.  The need here is so overwhelming.  The opportunities to get involved and help make a difference…limitless.  The daily “in your face” disparities between what you have and what others don’t…endless.  The feelings of not understanding this culture and desperately trying to make sense of our new home…exhausting.  The realization that the impact we hope to make here will take time, patience and perseverance.  There is so much that could be done and should be done.  I think that both Mike and I are high achievers and results-orientated so we are learning valuable lessons in  slowing down and taking one day at a time…

The cold “winter” here didn’t help matters!  It was overcast and cold every single day – not what you might expect living close to the equator.  Clothes were impossible to dry outside leaving a moldy odor that made the kids gag on numerous occasions!  Night times were spent huddled around a log fire in the house and going to bed early with hot water bottles, sweaters, and socks!  The kids had seven weeks off school and we were all at a bit of a loss as to how to fill the days, in addition to moving forward with my own work at the hospital.

By the time August rolled around, we were tired and depleted.  Mike commonly works twelve hour days, beginning at 6:00 in the morning.  Despite the hours that he puts in, there is always so much more to do.  The orthopedic department is incredibly busy and the patients keep on coming.  There is no “catching up” on surgery lists, just the constant scrambling to keep things moving.  The orthopedic doctors (Mike and two Kenya consultants) do a phenomenal job at ensuring excellent patient care under extreme pressure and long work hours.

In mid-August, we took a much-needed break at the coast.  At this point, we were feeling quite hopeless.  We were at the end of ourselves…exactly where we believe God brought us in order to realize that we cannot do this alone and in our own strength.  Nobody can.  Quite literally, we were asking ourselves how we were going to be able to return to Kijabe when the week was over.  And then God showed up…

Playing with spider crabs in the tide pools

Playing with spider crabs in the tide pools

The week in Watamu was just what we needed in terms of spending time together as a family.  We relaxed, played in the waves, ate delicious foods, read novels, went for walks on the beach, basked in the sun, and took stock of where we were at – both physically and emotionally.

Crocodile meat for dinner on our first night - tasted and enjoyed by all!

Crocodile meat for dinner on our first night – tasted and enjoyed by all!

Playing in the waves while Mike took wind-surfing lessons in the background!

Playing in the waves while Mike took wind-surfing lessons in the background!

On day two, we were just beginning to unwind.  We were playing in the waves in the warm Indian ocean when I looked at Michael and noticed that he was still wearing his insulin pump, which cannot be immersed in water!!!  Our hearts about nearly stopped.  We quickly called Medtronic in the US and they confirmed that his pump to the value of USD$4,000 was indeed fried beyond repair!  We were going to have to revert back to injections at least 4 times a day, which upset Michael greatly as you can imagine.  When on shots, you need a long-acting and a short-acting insulin to stabilize and manage blood sugars.  We had no long-acting insulin with us.  There we were, in the middle of a small, rural village, with little or no resources at hand.  We talked about flying back to Kijabe the next day and were devastated at Michael’s distress at having to go back to injections and us having to cut our holiday short.  We were literally on our knees, desperate for God’s intervention.

We walked up to the front desk and asked if the hotel knew of a local doctor.  They did and called him straight away.  Mike spoke to him on the phone and explained the situation and what we needed.  He told us what we already knew.  People with type 1 diabetes in Kenya use a insulin that has a short and long acting insulin mixed together, which we were totally unfamiliar with.  We told him that we specifically needed a vial of Lantus.  He told Mike to walk over to his clinic which he did with the help of a security guard from the hotel.  They picked their ways through dark and dusty alleyways, passing small fruit and vegetable stands along the way, lit only by kerosene lamps.  Finally, they reached a small “clinic” where the doctor was waiting.  Inside the clinic were rows of bare shelves with hardly any medical supplies except for a few bottles here and there.  Towards the back of the clinic was a tiny, box-shaped fridge.  The doctor explained to Mike as he opened the door to the fridge that he had no idea how he happened to have ONE vial of Lantus, but that it must have been previously donated to the clinic.  Of course, Mike’s eyes nearly left his head as he quickly checked the expiration date on the vial to make sure that it hadn’t expired.  It hadn’t.  The doctor refused to take any money for the insulin as it had been donated to his clinic.  As Mike walked back to the hotel with this precious vial of insulin, Michael’s diabetes doctor called me back from Nairobi and ensured me that he would courier a replacement pump to us within 24 hours!

If we had had any doubts as to whether God had left us to “do life in Kenya” all alone, this assured us that He was right there…sovereign over all of the details…ABLE to provide us with what we need at exactly the point when we need it most…WITH us at every turn, in every struggle, in every accomplishment.  How could we ever have doubted so strongly?  It was a precious reminder that He is in control and that that is enough for us…one day at a time is all we can hope to tackle…is all we really have the strength for.  We came back to Kijabe renewed and restored.  Ready to fully engage in the triumphs and the challenges.

Third gradeAnd this morning, we dropped two very excited kids off to their first day of third grade and first grade!  We took Michael’s teacher aside to run her through Michael’s management of his diabetes, to which she replied, “My mother has type 1 diabetes and wears an insulin pump just like Michael.  I know the signs to look out for.”  Of course she does!  We were reminded once again of how God so graciously showers our family with His grace and how He is always present.First grade

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