By: Norm Wetterau, MD - FMHF President
The campground was beautiful and even though the 45 people there were less than we often have, there were many new faces and people to get to know. We will return to Indiana next year, but with good memories of the Northwest and we hope a few new people from the west coast will follow us to Indiana.
The speakers, Eric and Rachel McLaughlin, are both physicians at Kibuye Hope Hospital in Burundi. Their talks were more spiritual than medical. In their medical work in Burundi, things often do not go well. God makes promises, but sometimes God appears to be breaking those promises. We reach out to those who are hurting but our efforts sometimes appear futile. These were some of the themes the pair, one a family physician and one an obstetrician, shared with us.
On Friday night we looked at Abraham. Promises were made to him, yet year after year they were not fulfilled. God promised that his offspring would be as the sands of the sea, but he still had no children. Yet he had faith. Although when he died these things had not all happened, they have happened now. God was faithful. God will answer, but not always when and how we plan. Revelation 21:5 is a key verse here, “He will make all things new”. In their hospital, many will not be healed, but let’s admit that even in our most advanced hospitals, all will eventually die, but God will make all things new.
On Saturday, we looked at 4 areas: insufficiency, losing hope, never enough, and darkness. Each issue was illustrated by at least one case that they had cared for. Insufficiency: Rachael cared for a woman who was infertile. She had lost 4 pregnancies and on her fifth she ended up with a ruptured uterus, In spite of Rachel’s best efforts. She was unable to save the uterus but did save the mother. Infertility, which is a big issue in Burundi, will remain. Her efforts were insufficient. Normally, delivering babies is a happy time, and sometimes it is for Rachael, but she does not do normal deliveries nor even normal c-sections. In the US, she felt that her skills were good, but in Africa they often appeared insufficient for the cases in which she is called to intervene. In 2 Corinthians, Paul says that God’s power is made perfect through his weakness and Rachael shared how she has experienced this. As she walks with those in need, she does not need to lose heart.
Losing Hope: Eric shared a case of triplets. After over 100-days one had finally gained enough weight to be discharged. This very premature baby had gone through many trials, but after 3 months, Eric felt success. It was all worth it. 2 days later, that baby suddenly died. Can a Christian physician have despair? Is lament in the scripture the same as despair? Eric pointed out that lament and despair are two very different things. Despair is the denial of God. Lament presumes that there is a God. Job never quit praying. In spite of his suffering and feeling of extreme sadness, he still believed in God, even a God who would not give him any answers. Many of the Psalms are laments, but one needs to work through various verses and stages until at the end the psalmist can see God. Lament is part of a Christian’s life, but despair should not be.
Never enough: We work hard, we do so much, but it is never enough. There are so many patients and so many needs. We are exhausted, but maybe we could have done more. We watched a short video from Schindler’s List where Schindler kept saying: “I could have done more”. Hundreds of Jews were in the room telling him that he had done so much, but he kept repeating: “I could have done more, I could have done more”. Eric referred to a sermon given by Tim Keller (Hope for the Poor - October 4, 2009) where he agreed with Schindler, that he could have done more. The main message is that our drive to feel that we have done “enough” is often motivated by a desire to earn God’s approval. Effectively, we want God to say that we have done enough. But the gospel (and the beginning of 1 John 3) remind us that God’s love and his adoption of us as sons and daughters is never dependent on us having done enough. It is an utterly free gift of grace. So, in the face of feeling like we have “never done enough”, we need to return to the unmerited nature of God’s love for us. The motivation for what we do is God’s love. As people we can never do enough, but God can. We need to turn our life and actions over to God.
Darkness: At times things seem very dark. The situation may be very dark and hopeless for our patients, and at times for us. Jesus is the light of the world and that light can shine in any darkness, but we also are the light. In spite of difficult situations, we are involved in and patients who appear to be in darkness, but the light is Jesus and we reflect that light as it shines through us.
So many points were brought up in the talks that one could write a book, which is indeed what Eric has done. It is in the final stages of editing and should be available within the next year. We felt privileged to hear Rachael and Eric share their stories and insight as to how God is present in the most difficult and seemly hopeless situations. We should never lose heart.
On Saturday evening we had another treat. Eric writes music and is an excellent guitar player and pianist. He sang songs he had composed around the theme such as “Man of Dust”. The words were much deeper than many contemporary Christian songs and deeply reinforced his talks. Many of these songs are on his website, so for those who could not attend, there will be the book and his songs, but even more important, Christ and his Word. Let us not lose heart!