Posts Tagged With: the justice conference

Sad News from Kijabe, a reason for hope, and a way to help

If you’ve followed this blog over time (October and November 2013), you’ll remember a desperately ill boy, named Jonah.  Jonah was flown from a remote region of Samburu to Kijabe with end stage tuberculosis.

Jonah in his hut in Samburu

Jonah in his hut in Samburu

The infection had eroded through his spine, causing complete paralysis from the waist down.  He went through a very difficult hospitalization, including three surgeries, one of which was complicated by cardiac arrest.  Miraculously, he survived this ordeal, and was able to return to his village and the loving arms of his mother.  He never recovered from the lack of oxygen to his brain during his cardiac arrest, however, and required assistance for feeding and all his activities.  Sadly, I received an email last week that Jonah had died in his home in Samburu.

Jonah’s short and difficult life reflects the daily struggles of so many in Africa.  In reality, Jonah died from poverty, which led to malnutrition, which weakened his immune system, which allowed the devastating infection to take over his precious little body.

And so this is the struggle….an adversary so large and powerful that it’s easy to lose hope.  Easy to think that our puny effort is too small, that children starve and die of infections, and wars break out, and relationships fracture, no matter how hard we try.

But this would miss the point entirely.  The point was never that what you or I do is enough, or sufficient, or even begins to scratch the surface.  We are small, we are broken, we can make little difference, no matter how hard we try.  The point, I think, is this:  we live in a broken, fallen world, where this type of suffering and loss is a constant reality.  Our choice is to succumb to the darkness, or numb ourselves to it, or, on the other hand, to embrace and be the light the world so desperately needs.

Through a long searching journey, I’ve come to believe that the outlandish story told in the bible is true:  that there is a God, that He created and loves us, and took on earthly existence so He could enter history and redeem this world.  His entrance into space and time set up an irreconcilable conflict, between darkness and light.

The Bible says “the whole world lies in the power of evil” (1 John 5:19).  That’s a dismal thought.  We live in a world ruled by evil, so what’s the point of striving for goodness, for light, for an end to suffering?  If we live in North Korea, what is the point of resisting Kim Jong Un?  If we live in a world dominated by materialism, what is the point in living simply?  If children get sick and die before they can enjoy life, what is the point in expending tremendous time, energy, and money to try to save just one child?

The point is this:  the battle is a worthy one, and we don’t fight alone.

The Gospel of John begins with this poem:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

He was in the beginning with God.

All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.

In him was life, and the life was the light of men.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

“The Word”, in Greek, Logos, refers to Christ, and is the root word of logic, or order.  So you could paraphrase this poem to read, “In the beginning was order…”  So the Christian world view is that this world is meant for order, not chaos.  Health, not suffering.  Peace, not violence.  Relationship, not isolation.  Christ came into the world as the light, and the darkness cannot, and will not, overcome it.

The good news is that we get to choose sides, choose our commanding officer.  As the great Canadian sage (and lead singer of Rush) Geddy Lee said, “If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”  CS Lewis, former atheist and one of the great theologians of the twentieth century, described it as “Enemy-occupied territory—that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.”

By choosing the light, by choosing to be servants of “the rightful king”, our puny efforts become part of a larger effort to make this suffering world a little more like the kingdom of order it was created to be.

So how does Jonah fit into all of this?  Is it God’s will that innocent children suffer and die?

I don’t believe so.   I don’t think I’d much like a father who’s plan included the suffering of his children.  Rather, I believe our Father loves us so much he gave us choice, allows us to reject Him, allows the human race to choose pride and this broken world over servant-hood in His kingdom.  But like any loving father, he looks for opportunities to intervene in our suffering to spread His light despite the darkness of this world.

So if I am to believe in this God, I have to believe that He suffered with Jonah, and with Jonah’s mother, as Jonah became sick and died.  That he loves us so much he came into our world to suffer with us.  Compassion:  com-with, passio-suffer:  to suffer with.  I believe God suffers with us, shows compassion for us, as the darkness descends.  And one of the ways He shows compassion is to find ways to shine light in the darkest of moments.

Jonah’s life touched thousands of lives.  So many people have themselves responded with compassion, with prayers, with support, and with donations so generous that many others have been able to be treated at Kijabe.  Here is a statement of some of the very poor patients who came to Kijabe for care, and had their bills simply written off by compassionate donations to the vulnerable orthopedic patient fund, all because of one six year old boy.

A list of patients helped by the vulnerable patient fund:  over one million shillings!

A list of patients helped by the vulnerable patient fund: over one million shillings!


One of those being helped by the Vulnerable Patient Fund is Ben Moyie.  “Moyie” (moy-yeah) is Ben’s name, but also a swahili outcry of grief.  I don’t know why he was named this, but it sadly portrays his life.  Ben grew up in an area well known for demonic practices, with an alcoholic father, in abject poverty.  He noticed a mass on his left thigh when he was about 12 years old. His family background made it very difficult to get to a doctor.  He was eventually seen, and had a biopsy, which showed a benign tumor of his femur, or thigh bone.  This continued to grow, and he again had a biopsy done two years ago.  The tumor was very large now, but again the biopsy was benign, or non-cancerous.  Because of the size of the tumor, he was advised to have it removed.  This was far beyond the means of his family, so he did not have the surgery.  When the pain became intolerable at age 18, he finally appeared at Kijabe, alone, ten hours bus ride from his home near the Indian Ocean.  The tumor was shockingly large, making removal very difficult.

Ben's leg with large tumor

Ben’s leg with large tumor

Tragically, by this time, it had transformed into a highly malignant tumor known as osteosarcoma.  The only hope for a cure was amputation, through the hip joint.

Understandably, Ben fell into despair at this news.  He asked to be sent home to die.  He withdrew, refused to speak.  The team of doctors and chaplains came again and again to his bedside to pray with him, to talk with him, to suffer with him.

Ann noticed that he had only one light shirt, with holes all over it.  The nights at Kijabe are cold, and the hospital has no heating.  Ann gave him one of her sweatshirts from the Justice Conference to keep him warm at night.

Ben Moyie after surgery, warm in his Justice Conference hoodie

Ben Moyie after surgery, warm in his Justice Conference hoodie

Amazingly, this somehow turned a switch in Ben.  He felt loved, he knew he mattered, he saw a ray of light.  He decided he was through with being sick, being in pain, being hopeless, and asked that we go ahead with the amputation.

Ben has been in the hospital since January, is now healed from his amputation and hoping he can be fit with a prosthesis.  He’s now 19 years old and hopes for as normal a life as possible.  Despite the size of the tumor, there is no sign that it has spread outside of the leg, so we pray for a complete healing.

To be able to walk, Ben will need a very special prosthesis, one rarely made in sub-Saharan Africa.  A prosthesis  that fits onto his pelvis, with two artificial joints.  I’ve talked to the prosthetic specialists here at Kijabe, and they are up for the challenge.  With donated artificial joints, the leg can be made for about $3,000, a fraction of what it would cost in the US.  Even this reduced amount, however, would represent about four years income to Ben’s family.  They would have to sell their ancestral land to buy the leg.

I would like to invite you to donate to the Kijabe Orthopaedic Vulnerable Patients’ Fund.  Our church has created a secure giving platform which allows you to make a US tax-deductible donation to help Ben and others like him.  There’s no middle man, no administrative cost, your donation goes into an account, and then directly to the patient’s bill.  If you are moved to help Ben, you can use the link below to make your donation.  You can “Pay as a guest”, and select “Orthopaedic Vulnerable Patient’s Fund”, and we’ll put your donation to work immediately.


Thanks for showing compassion, for “suffering with” these most vulnerable men, women, and children.





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“Here I Am”

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

 Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

 Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about.  On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance.  He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

The Old Testament story of Abraham is one of my favorite stories in the Bible, for a number of reasons.  The historical figure of Abraham, incredibly, shapes global foreign policy to this day.  As the father of all three of the world’s major monotheistic religions, Abraham continues to affect world history as much or more today as he did in 1700 BC.  Thomas Cahill, in his book “The Gifts of the Jews”, argues the point that no one in Western culture can have a thought in his or her head which is not profoundly affected by the life of Abraham.  Abraham is the first recorded “man on a mission”, or man with a defined purpose in life.  As Westerners, we have trouble making sense of this statement.  Of course my life has a purpose, everyone’s life has a purpose.  Life is purposeful.  We can no more imagine a universe where human life has no purpose than a fish can imagine a life without being wet.  We are immersed in the notion that life has purpose.  Even the most ardent atheistic supporter of life as a culmination of random molecular events can enjoy improving his golf game, raising a family, or arguing against the existence of a loving, wise creator.

Abraham had a purpose.  Like Chevy Chase and John Belushi in “Blues Brothers”, he was “on a mission from God.”  Literally.  He was a well off guy, living his life in the ancient middle east, when God called to him.  Remember, this was prior to monotheism , Judaism, or any other prism through which we view God today.  He was called, and he said “Here I am.”  God told him to leave his place of comfort, and go build a people, a nation, the chosen people.  And he simply obeyed. “Here I am.”  There were no ten commandments, because Abraham had not yet founded the nation that would be taken into slavery in Egypt and freed by Moses to wander in the desert.  There was no Jesus (that he knew of), because the nation of Israel had not yet risen, fallen, and been put under Roman rule.  There weren’t yet even prophecies of a messiah, concepts of sin or forgiveness, or any other carrot or stick to motivate Abraham.

But Abraham obeyed.  In the child-like innocence described by an obscure Jewish rabbi named Yeshua the Nazarene 2000 years later, Abraham simply obeyed God.  By doing so, he entered into the first covenant between human kind and its creator.  Abraham had a purpose.

Prior to Abraham, the middle east followed the cyclical world-view of the Sumerians.  A world view similar to Greek mythology,  the seasons went round and round, and the gods played out their dramas in the heavens. People were simply the pawns of the gods, existing to live, die, appease, and fear.  No one life had any particular purpose.  Abraham changed all that.  After Abraham, life had purpose.

This incredible figure is widely described as the father of faith.  Revered by Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, his life is held as the ultimate earthly example of faith.  God had made a promise, a covenant, that Abraham would be the father of a nation, the chosen people of God.  He was promised a son, even in his old age.  That son, that coveted, long awaited son, was Isaac.  After calling on Abraham to leave his home, his comfort, his life, and move into a foreign land, God calls on Abraham again.   The stakes are even higher this time.  God tells Abraham to take Isaac, to hike for three days to Mount Moriah, and sacrifice his son.  No reason given, no “if you do this, I’ll do that.”  Just do it.  Abraham’s response:  “Here I am.”  He just does it.  If you know the story, God calls off the execution at the last moment, provides an alternate sacrifice, and Abraham’s faith is credited to him as righteousness.

Rembrandt, The Sacrifice of Isaac

This horrific, murderous story is unpacked in one of the most difficult books I’ve ever read, “Fear and Trembling”, by Soren Kierkegaard.

This book, really almost a pamphlet, was written by the philosopher credited with founding the field of existential philosophy.  Though existentialism is now viewed as an atheist philosophy, Kierkegaard was in fact a Christian.  The book looks like you could breeze through it in an afternoon, but it takes me weeks to get through.  Kierkegaard was nearly driven mad by the idea that an all knowing, all loving, all powerful God could ask his humble servant to do something as unethical as murder his son.  Though Abraham’s hand was held back at the last moment, in his heart he was ready to murder his son in obedience to a God he barely knew.

We think of faith as something lovely, warm, and reassuring.  Abraham’s life shows us that a life of faith may call us to behaviors seen as strange, unethical, or even on the edge of sanity.  Kierkegaard’s unblinking look at the story of Abraham reveals faith as a radical, uncompromising, and life changing path.

But notice what Abraham says to his servants:  “We will come back to you.  God’s covenant with Abraham includes the promise that Isaac will go on to be the father of a great nation.  Abraham was a wise and successful man:  he knew that sacrificing his son would preclude him from becoming the covenanted father of God’s chosen people.  But he didn’t need an explanation, he strode forward with child-like obedience and the resolve of a warrior.  He knew he could obey God, and against all odds, God would fulfill his promise.  The message is no less than this:  faith means abandoning all you know is right and good, in obedience to God.

I’ve gotten to know another Abraham recently.  There’s a man, about my age, who wanders around Kijabe.  Abraham is schizophrenic in a place with limited resources for mental health care.  He lives with his twin brother in a nearby town.  His twin brother is also schizophrenic, and so severely mentally ill he can barely speak.  Abraham wanders around, collecting sticks to trade for food or cigarettes at the nearby shops.  If you meet him on the path, he’ll ask for 10 shillings ( 12 Cents) or some food.

A few years ago, Abraham’s family collected the resources to take him to a mental health facility in Naivasha.  He was turned away, as they didn’t have enough medicine to treat him.  He was referred to a better supplied facility in Nairobi, where he lived for a time.  Unfortunately, the hospital didn’t have the resources for both medicine and food.  Abraham’s family travelled from Kijabe to Nairobi nearly every day to bring him food, but eventually this was too great a strain on the family’s resources, and they were forced to bring him back home.

Abraham gave his permission for this photo, and for its use here.

So now, Abraham wanders far from his home, with faith that God will fulfill his promise to care for us:

So do not be afraid…Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows

God’s promise is that he cares for each of us individually.  We can convince ourselves that we’re self-reliant, but ultimately we have little more control over our destiny than my friend Abraham.  I don’t know Abraham well enough to know if his reliance on God’s provision is faith or simple necessity.  I’m not sure he has any choice.

I got to know Abraham because he started hanging out on our porch.  At 7,200 feet elevation, it gets cold here, and it’s been raining really hard.  I looked out the window, and he was sitting outside our patio door on a chair,trying to keep out of the rain.  His shoes and pants have large holes, and his jacket was soaked.  This raised a very minor Abraham-esque dilemma for me.  On the one hand, Jesus’s instructions are clear:

 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,  I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Who better exemplifies “the least of these” than Abraham?  On one hand, God’s instructions here are clear.  This mentally ill man is Jesus.  In God’s mystical reasoning, helping Abraham is the same as serving Jesus.  On the other hand, I’ve got a family to protect.  I’ve got little children.   I’ve got a wife who is sometimes home alone when I’m at the hospital.  I’ve got a patio I’d like to be able to relax on by myself. It might be irresponsible, even unethical, maybe even a little insane, to embrace Abraham.  At the very least, it might be inconvenient.  I started weighing the pros and cons of giving Abraham some food, some chai, some warm clothes.  Sure God’s instructions are clear, but what about my family?  I started thinking that if I fed him, he would likely start coming around more, hanging out, and that might not be safe or desirable.

Then it occurred to me that this is the way you think about a stray dog or cat.  This man, this child of God, this unique creation, this representative of Christ, occupies the same part of my brain as a stray animal.

Faith is a tough road, and maybe not a place  for the completely sane or ethical.

Some of the hardest and most dangerous words  to say are “Here I am.”


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