Blessings during this Christmas season.
I vividly remember a devotion shared by Dave Kersten at one of our staff retreats. He noted from John 16:33, a promise that never makes it onto plaques or calendars of promises, where Jesus says that in this world you will have trouble. Thankfully he continues that we should nonetheless take heart because he has overcome the world. This verse fairly well describes my past year. As many of you know, I have suffered with chronic pain from idiopathic (big word for we really haven’t a clue what caused it) neuropathy of my hands and feet. I have only abnormal sensations but lack all normal sense of touch and feeling, impacting both hands and feet. The disabling part came with the onset of severe spasms seemingly triggered by the pain. While having EMG guided Botox injections in my calves and feet, my neurologist noted that I have pathognomonic wave formations for a rare autoimmune syndrome, Stiff Person Syndrome (SPS). When I was in med school it was called Stiff Man Syndrome, but equal rights have brought us a long way! It occurs in about one in a million people. It has no cognitive impact but can cause spasms of muscles (in my case hands, feet, legs, and back) from many different stimuli. The treatment consists of some oral medications and monthly IV Immunoglobulin infusions which take 8 hours a day for 2 consecutive days and are extremely expensive (thank you Bethany Benefits!). I am getting a lot of relief from these infusions though still have some pain episodes.
Because of these infusions it is impossible for me to live fulltime in Oaxaca. I proposed trying to create an alternative job profile so I could work from Florida through Skype and email with the existing Semillas de Salud (Seeds of Health) team and to develop a Zika program that could be used in not only our churches in Mexico but also in other impacted countries, including the US where we have Hispanic churches in Texas and with our churches here in Florida. This would be supplemented with periodic visits to Oaxaca as I do have a 3 week window between my treatments and recovery from them. This, however, was rejected, leaving me only the option of applying for long term disability. It breaks my heart to leave Oaxaca, but I live in the proleptic now and not yet of John 16:33. I’m having troubles, but Jesus is still in control.
Semillas is currently actively working to join with the nonprofit NGO Fuentes Libres so that they can work more closely with some government programs. School testing continues and we’re seeing our first group of kids who were tested 15 years ago and had problems referred for correction entering health careers with the intent to work with Semillas. Germination of seeds can take time, but little by little the seeds sown through the loving networking of the churches with other agencies are sprouting, creating more seed, and providing rest to the birds of the air (Mark 4). Dra. Elidia Ramos is now the Medical Director, a Oaxacan physician who has selflessly given of her time to help with Semillas in the Isthmus region. Although I still have a gazillion dreams of what Semillas could do, now it is time for the Oaxacans to dream their dreams, plant their seeds, and wait….
So what’s next? Well, I always hold on to hope that eventually we will be able to reinstate me with Serve Globally so I can spend the few years left before retirement serving with the mission family. In the meantime I’m looking into volunteering as a guardian ad litem and am investigating an online Master of Arts degree from University of London dealing with treatment of and legal matters pertaining to refugees and displaced persons. ICE has a camp about an hour south of my home in FL of detained undocumented minors in the US without their parents and unable to locate family here. ICE has refused permission for anyone outside of their agency to check on the kids or work/play with them-no church groups, civic groups, pediatric association, no one. If I can’t work with my beloved Oaxacan kids in Mexico, maybe I can work with them here in South Florida.
In the meantime please keep the Semillas de Salud team and the missionary colleagues in prayer as they strategize for the future. And please pray for me-this transition is neither easy nor desired. Pray that I will remember “Soñar no cuesta nada!” – It doesn’t cost anything to dream- as I look to the future ministry God has for me.
As you consider what to do with the prayer and financial support so graciously given me, please consider supporting my long term missionary colleagues in Oaxaca or others in health ministry as well as a wonderful and talented young man, Robert McLeod, who is raising funds to serve as a short term missionary teaching music at Oaxaca Christian School where our MKs attend and working with music in our churches.
Thank you again for all of your love and support. You have helped the light of God’s love that came into the world and that we celebrate in this season, to touch and change the lives of many in Oaxaca. (And I’m still willing to converse, skype, or visit and tell stories about Oaxaca, speak on holistic Christian health, and share the great things God has done through your faithful support.)
Grace and Peace be with you all.
P.S. I will lose access to my covchurch email account January 1, so if you wish to contact me, my email is cjhooverlawson[at]gmail.com.
The uncertainty above refers to the way they forecast hurricanes – southern FL is currently within that “cone” for Tropical Storm Erika. The term always sounds a bit odd to me, though. And I often feel like I live within a cone of uncertainty with respect to many things, including the treatment of my neuropathy.
I thought I’d write a bit of an update from last week’s surgery. The procedure went well, though took about twice as long as anticipated. Luckily I was in a propofol sleep through much of it. (I will have to say that I really don’t understand why anyone would want to use any of those drugs “recreationally” – I hate the weird dreams during and the fuzzy feeling afterwards.) The device rep did initial programming for my unit in recovery – I was a bit out of it. The results of that programming were options that didn’t pinpoint the correct location very well and that extended way to far from my feet. So the weekend and beginning of the week were a bit discouraging given fuzziness, pain (in my back from the procedure) and lack of any good neuropathy relief from the implant. The rep refined and reprogrammed the unit on Wednesday with much better results – not perfect, but some relief. This is the hard part – knowing what realistic expectations are plus allowing time for healing and for learning how to use this system in the best manner possible.
Writing to thank people for their prayers is also difficult because I don’t want to disappoint anyone, cause anyone to question their (or my faith), and just want to report total immediate healing, but the reality is that sometimes the “healing” is chronic, just like the pain or the illness. I expect to make a good recovery and I hope to find that this implant will allow me to cope with pain and to return to Mexico. But this takes time. So please continue praying so that I patiently work through all of this without discouragement or depression. Also that I’ll be patient and compliant with my physical restrictions (it’s easy to forget that you are not supposed to bend over to pick something up, etc…). I made a trip to the store yesterday to get a few things in case Erika does choose to visit our area, could put them one by one in my cart, could get the young man to load it into my trunk, but then when I got home, I had to take it 5# at a time into the house – a good number of trips! But only 7 more weeks of these restrictions! (Plus I get to finally take a shower tomorrow!) I’m hoping to get some online coursework done in international health and some much needed reading done in areas of medicine, health, and missiology during this time.
So that’s what’s going on. Thank you all for your many kind notes and wishes, and for your prayers, and please continue praying that I will learn healthy coping and use of this device and will be able to fill my time with useful pursuits.
I’ve been reading through the OT history books, and this week came across the story in 2 Kings 4 about Elisha and the widow with the small amount of oil as her only possession, but with creditors at her door. Elisha tells her to go ask her neighbors for jars – ask for many, not just a few. And then the sufficiency of her oil to meet all her pressing needs comes about through the participation of her friends.
As many of you know, I’m not always the best correspondent – I keep putting off writing till the end of the story, but the story just keeps on going. (I guess I need to learn to write serials rather than complete stories!) But that denies you all from knowing what’s going on, and providing your prayers, which can be seen as similar to the how the neighbors in the story were able to participate and be a part of what God was doing. For that I apologize, and hope that I can improve in the future to ask for many to participate, not just a few.
This goes for prayer partners too. I know you all are faithful prayers, but I haven’t always provided you with information to guide your prayers. But I’m feeling that need acutely as I contemplate surgery this Friday, August 21. As many know, I’ve been dealing with idiopathic neuropathy for nearly 15 years now, and no longer have normal sensation in my hands or feet. Numbness is one thing, but I’ve also developed severe intermittent pain in my feet from the condition (no normal sensation but loads of horribly painful sensations) that has interfered with activities and life in general. I feel like the woman in the gospels who is described as having sought care from many doctors and they’ve not helped and she is even worse after all their ministrations! Well, I’ve tried all of the medications, therapies, and surgeries trying to ameliorate the pain, with no success. The last thing left to try (at this point in time at least – still hoping for medical research to find other treatments) is an implanted spinal neuro-stimulator – kind of like TENS right to the spinal cord. It doesn’t treat the pain as such, but creates a competing sensation to overload and block the neuropathic pain sensation. If you’re interested in knowing more, you can check it out at www.poweroveryourpain.com. I had a trial of this in July with some benefit – not 100% but enough to make it worth trying the permanent implant.
So that’s what I’m scheduled for this Friday. It was originally scheduled for September 11 but they got a cancellation, so I’ve been running around like crazy to get all the pre-op requirements done and to get my house ready for living for 6-8 weeks “from the middle shelf” (as my Mom put it after her stroke) – I won’t be allowed to bend over, reach up, twist, or lift more than 5-10 pounds to allow everything to heal in and not move the spinal cord electrodes.
I might be a “holy and consecrated missionary” (cue for all my friends and those who know me to laugh) but I am a bit anxious. This is a big thing and has a big impact on the rest of my life and on me getting back to Oaxaca in January. So I ask for your prayers – for calmness, for ability to get done what needs to be done and to not stress over the other, to have a good and uneventful procedure and recuperation, to have patience during my middle shelf time, to have persistence and organization to get some needed study done during that time, and to have good pain relief and the ability to return to Oaxaca in January. Oh, and you could pray for the surgeon and the OR team and the guy who programs the unit and modifies it as we seek the best settings for relief. Feel free to pray for my Mom too – it’s hard on her not being able to be with me or really help, and because of back restrictions, it will be difficult to take her places or bring her to my house for dinner, etc… during this time.
Well, this is quite long, especially after not having written much in the past few years. I promise to keep you informed of my progress. And I thank you for your faithful prayers and support, even when I have been less than faithful in my communication.
¡Mil gracias! Y ¡Muchos bendiciones de nuestro Dios a todos!
PS – those who are wondering about Clancy, Oaxacadog, during this time, well, she’ll be living it up as the princess she thinks she is at my cousin’s friend’s house, being spoiled rotten.
Many churches are considering or planning short term mission/vision trips. I thought I’d pass along the books I have found most useful in considering the whys and hows of these trips.
Hope you find these helpful.
Reading for Mission/Vision Trips
Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. Helping Without Hurting in Short-Term Missions – Leader’s Guide
David A. Livermore. Serving with Eyes Wide Open: Doing Short-Term Missions with Cultural Intelligence
Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett. When Helping Hurts
Robert J. Priest, Editor. Effective Engagement in Short-Term Missions: Doing It Right!
Robert D. Lupton. Toxic Charity
Brian M. Howell. Short-Term Mission: An Ethnography of Christian Travel Narrative and Experience
Bryant Myers. Walking with the Poor
Also possibly of interest:
Mission Committee workbook
Click on the link to read what I presented in Chicago in April 2015 for the Anderson Kim Bioethics Lecture at North Park University.
Dear Partners in Ministry,
I know I’ve been a poor communicator – I keep wanting to wait till the end of the story before writing, and it seems that God always has a little more to add so I never end up writing. ¡Lo siento mucho!
But I will be in the US on Home Assignment this year, so maybe we can visit and talk about all God is doing through the holistic health ministry of Semillas de Salud. I will be living in South Florida (Pompano
Beach) and traveling to visit churches. If you’d like to chat about scheduling a visit, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or talk with Barbara Fisk in Covenant World Mission offices, email@example.com.
As always, thanks for your ongoing support of my ministry in Oaxaca, Mexico. Please be praying for me as I tie up loose ends for my year away from Oaxaca and my plans in the US.
I look forward to seeing you all this coming year, ¡Dios primero!
Thought you all might be interested in a little tour of the hospital here. The inpatient side has about 48 beds in 4 wards — there are no complete walls between sections, just a half wall dividing each side in 2, with a central nurses station.
Outside of the ward is a waiting area that also has the lab and Xray departments — the capabilities of these departments is quite limited. Note the way Xrays are kept (though actually, the patients are supposed to keep their own Xrays and bring them with them for any visits). You’ll also find the improvised snack bar out in this area as well as the hospital dog (when he’s not in the wards themselves!)
Physical Therapy is downstairs and is the site for Advantage Haiti, a project to help those with disabilities integrate into society and to help make Haiti more accessible. There is a shop for making prosthesis and orthotics as well as the usual mats and some equipment. Dr. June Hanks runs this program and has a couple from Nicaragua who are prosthetists and a PTaide. Physical Therapists from the US are recruited to come help with the project which not only provides services at the site at the hospital but also to people in the “rehab center” who are staying there while learning the skills and getting the equipment needed for mobility and while going to the Bernice Johnson Center where they learn useful crafts and handwork that can be sold. Advantage Haiti also hires Haitians with disabilities — the scheduler/secretary is a paraplegic woman and a helper and general aide is a man who is deaf and mute.
The outpatient clinic is on the same level as the inpatient, with the waiting area, lab, and xray between. There is also a waiting area inside the outpatient area where patients wait till they’re seen. Basically it seems that people come first thing in the morning to be seen, then wait till it’s their turn — though they often push into the exam room while someone else is still being seen. Although they wait for long times, it’s not the same type of waiting as in Mexico, with people here jockeying for position and telling each other off if they’ve mistakenly thought it should be their turn, etc.. In the outpatient area, they also use one room to do pelvic ultrasounds — someone donated the machine, and now it seems as if nearly every pregnant woman has an ultrasound! Meanwhile, other basic lab and imaging tests are lacking — this is more than a bit frustrating to me! I don’t have many photos of the outpatient side, but am including some photos of my patients here.
So a bit different from my experiences in both US and Mexico health facilities (though more similar to Mexico than to the US in some ways). While this is owned by Lumiere Ministries, a Christian organization that is part of the Baptist Church of South Haiti, this is not a free facility. Patients pay for consults and procedures, and while there is a “poor fund” to help with some costs, I did see doctors asking whether someone could pay for a procedure before going ahead with it. In my humble opinion, there has been some rather negative impact of the US expat doctors in Haiti in that they not only do medicine, but they let the Haitian docs know what the life of a rich US doctor <G> is like, and no matter how much fear there might be of the impact on income of health reform, this looks very good to the Haitian doctors. This is further complicated by the fact that being a doctor in Haiti gives elite status (although the medical education there is rather lacking), so telling those who already feels they are special and above the others that other doctors are charging lots for consults and procedures and making a lot of money has had a rather negative impact in some situations.
Thanks for touring the facilities here with me. This post has been delayed because of technical problems while I was still in Haiti (ie, no access to internet). The next post will be photos of various things in Haiti, and then I will post a summary post on Haiti, titled Degagé (a word in both French and Creole that pretty much sums up how one has to work in Haiti).