Happy (belated) Easter! He is risen indeed! The daycare gave away 61 chickens for holiday feasts.
Dagim is walking!
Get comfortable – this is a longer post. I’ll start with some news from the hospice program at Strong Hearts before passing it off to Andrew.
Sirkalem passed away on Thursday evening after suffering from cervical cancer for past few years. She was 38. Her husband has been in the States for nearly one year after seeking political asylum, and their teenage daughter went to join him about 5 months ago. Their other daughter, age five, attends Strong Hearts Academy. Sirkalem had been with the hospice program for about 4 years, and was always a joy to visit, greeting us with hugs, kisses, and smiles. She worked hard to keep her small home clean and comfortable. When she had the strength, she would insist on welcoming us into her home with a coffee ceremony and would always have some sort of food to offer. Sirkalem would bless us over and over again for the services we provided. In January, she started to show signs of decline. Her pain and fatigue worsened, and she began to have an increasingly difficult time eating and drinking. She would go to the doctor, but the most they would do was prescribe Prilosec for “gastritis” and maybe give some low-dose ibuprofen for pain.
In March, we took her to the ER at Black Lion, the city’s main government-run hospital, connected with Addis Ababa University. Having never been there before and still somewhat naïve regarding the healthcare system here, I was expecting to be impressed. Instead, I was appalled. The ER had a line that extended out the door, into the outdoor waiting area, into the courtyard, and into the parking lot. Many families appeared to have been waiting there through the night, coming prepared with blankets and pillows. Many individuals looked on the verge of death (the Ethiopian nurses I was with said that many people do, indeed, die while waiting in line). We waited for approximately 2 hours (a short wait, probably hastened by my white skin) before being ushered into the emergency room. The odor in the ER was unbearable. Basins were scattered throughout the room as receptacles for human waste. To my right a family was weeping, to my left a man moaning in pain, and in front of me Sirkalem vomited into the bucket placed in front of her. It felt and looked like how I imagine a temporary war-zone clinic: crowded and chaotic. Since there weren’t nearly enough beds or stretchers, many sick people were lying on the floor on top of some collapsed cardboard boxes. Sirkalem waited another hour once in the ER to be seen by a young resident. She was seated in an uncomfortable metal chair as two bags of IV fluids were delivered over the next 3 hours. A few weeks later, she was taken to another government hospital, where she stayed for two weeks and ended up having an “exploratory” surgery done to see why she was having such difficulty eating and drinking. The incision measured from her sternum down to just below the umbilicus. The doctors did this knowing that she was in the end stage of cancer – a hospice patient! Whenever we visited the hospital, we could never find a doctor to speak to, the floor nurses were not informed enough to explain the situation, and the charts were inaccessible.
It saddens, confuses, and frustrates me to no end. This type of treatment – this experience – is accepted as completely normal here. Unless you can afford to go to a private hospital (which the vast majority of the population cannot), this is Ethiopia. Huluageresh, another cervical cancer (and AIDS) patient, is also caught in this system of hopelessness and injustice. Approximately one month ago, she started to complain of vaginal discomfort, unable to sit up in bed anymore. Upon further assessment, we found severe wounds. It might have started with radiation therapy, a bed sore, poor self-care, simply the disease process…we don’t know. We have tried taking her to two different hospitals, but the doctors refuse to treat the wounds (even to obtain a culture). The basic message we receive is that this is “just part of cancer” and that she is going to die anyway. The Ethiopian nurses aren’t surprised to hear this news; they were expecting it. I find myself outraged, knowing that if she were in the States, this wound probably would have never even started. It would be treated. It would probably heal. Here, she must just live with it, add it to the list of her discomforts. We continue to visit her at her home 3-4 times per week, monitoring the wound and providing basic supplies and education on how to care for it. I can’t tell if she understands the severity of the wound – how it might very well hasten her death. But death is not talked about in this culture. Things and people will always be OK, with the help of God. Our Ethiopian nurses pray for God to sustain life. But when I see this quality of life, I pray for release, for mercy. I fight feelings of negligence and guilt.
While these stories may sound discouraging, I know that the hospice program provides valuable care that would otherwise be absent. It would be easy to resign in the face of so many obstacles, but I am compelled to love and serve even when others might see it as futile. Let me share a more encouraging story from the daycare center:
A little over two months ago, a new family joined the family care center: parents Almaz and Abebe and their son, Brihanu. Brihanu is about 1 year and five months old. When he first arrived, we quickly noticed that he was small for his age (just 14 pounds). He is behind on some developmental milestones, with poor coordination and muscle strength, unable to sit up on his own. His father is blind. His mother walks with a cane since one leg is longer than the other. Both parents are beggars. Brihanu is carried almost everywhere, not often given the opportunity to use important muscles. We figured this was part of the problem, but one month ago learned that something else was going on.
Brihanu and his mother, Almaz
After some laboratory testing and a MRI, all evidence pointed towards TB of the spine, also known as Pott’s Disease. At the end of March, we took Brihanu to St. Peter’s, a TB hospital in Addis. He was admitted to begin 2 months of inpatient treatment with daily injections. After consulting with neurosurgeons, we have been told that he will not need spinal surgery – what a relief! Strong Hearts provided Brihanu’s mother with everything she needed in order to stay at the hospital, since 24-hour care is not included. (The hospital provides food and lodging for patients, but not their families.) Neighbors and volunteers have helped care for his father while they are away, including transportation to the hospital at least once every two weeks for the whole family to visit with one another. Last week, Brihanu was discharged one month earlier than expected! He has made good progress and is gaining weight and strength. Each weekday, I will be going to the daycare in the morning to administer his medication and monitor for any side effects.
Brihanu tucked into his hospital bed
God’s provision during this year in Ethiopia has been evident at every turn. I could easily fill an entire blog post describing the many ways our needs have been met and surpassed. Christian community is one example of this provision that has come into clear focus in the past few months. While Andrew and I have felt very welcomed by all sorts of folks throughout our time here, God has placed some wonderful friends in our lives. Relationships have been a challenge for us here, in part because no one really knows you. One thing we miss about home is simply people who know us – our past, our quirks, and so on. Living somewhere short-term involves starting from scratch in all your relationships. While this can be fun, it can also be tiring. But recently, we’ve reached a comfortable degree of familiarity with a number of friends who know us quite well. It’s been a blessing to share fellowship with some wonderful people and has been for us a reminder of the incredible gift of friendship. We’ve been so excited to reunite with family and friends back home that it’s odd now to sense the loss we will experience upon leaving. It will be wonderful to return home, but it will be painful to leave friends here in Ethiopia. One thing we’ve learned from the expatriate community in Addis is that it is a community marked by continual gain and loss. This, of course, is a pattern of life in general, but it is acutely the case for missionaries. All of that is to say we are profoundly grateful for the friends we’ve made here and can attest to the ways our work has been encouraged and our lives enriched through their friendship.
Friends at a build-your-own pizza night
Enjoying a coffee ceremony with Aster and Bizunesh. They’ve taken great care of us.
Some of the ladies…
…and some of the gents
My teaching at the seminary continues to be a source of life for me. It’s not without its bumps in the road, but I really do love it. I’ll share one unexpected snapshot of my experience teaching here:
Abdiwak was a student in my Historical Theology class last semester. He was a pleasure to have in class, always kind, thoughtful, and hard-working. Just before our week-long Easter break, he came to my office to thank me for being his teacher last semester. But his manner of thanks was a complete surprise. Before coming to seminary and before working with a rural Bible school, Abdiwak made a living as a tailor. He asked if could make me a pair of pants as a gesture of thanks! So, he took my measurements and we went to a tailor shop where I picked out some fabric I liked. And during his weeklong break from school, he sewed me a very nice pair of pants. Apart from my gratitude at such a kindness, Abdiwak reminded me of the sort of creativity that can be involved in loving our neighbor.
This story makes me smile and illustrates the blessing it is to teach here at the seminary. I recognize how spoiled I am to have students who treat me with such respect (despite being younger than most) and are quick to express their gratitude. I won’t soon forget my students here.
The future is always a mystery to all of us, but our plans for the future have gained clarity in the past few weeks. Many of you know I reapplied to PhD programs in theology for this coming fall. Sadly, that door did not open yet again. But, my journey towards teaching in higher education will continue this coming year at Duke Divinity School where I will pursue a ThM (a Master of Theology is a one year academic degree of coursework and research). God’s provision has once again been evident as I have received a substantial scholarship from Western Seminary that will cover most of the tuition at Duke. Jana and I are excited to have some definite plans for when we return to the States and look forward to making the move to Durham. I can’t say what lies beyond the ThM, but I am eager to see how it shapes my interests and adjusts the trajectory of my vocation to serve the church through teaching and discipleship. I am also eager to bring my experience of teaching here in Ethiopia to bear upon my studies and research.
Divinity School chapel at Duke
We would so appreciate your prayers as we wrap up our service here in Addis in a month and a half. We want to continue focusing on the tasks before us and not dwell too much on what’s ahead. Still, please pray that God is preparing a place for us in Durham: a home and also a nursing job for Jana.
That’s all for now from the Meads in Addis.