Sometimes in life you make snap decisions that turn out great and sometimes not so great, sometimes even terrible. About 4 weeks ago I made one of those snap decisions. This time I believe it was the Holy Spirit who prompted me, because it turned out better than I could ever have hoped for, especially for an introvert like me who relies on Bekki to make the friends and contacts.
One Sabbath evening Pastor Daniel Sandy, our new Sierra Leone Mission President, came by the little guest room to chat with us. There were a couple items of business he was following up on, but mostly it was to talk about the hospital, the mission and the future of the SDA work in Sierra Leone. (Pastor Sandy is a vice-chairman of our hospital board.) In the course of the conversation he mentioned that he was going to Maryland the first weekend of August to attend a campmeeting of the local SDA Sierra Leone ex-pats living in that area.
When he said that, it was like someone flipped a switch in my brain. “I have to be there”, was the thought. Right on heels of that thought were the rational, how, why, who.
How are you getting there?
How are you paying for this?
Why are you going? You weren’t invited.
Who is going? Are you taking Bekki? Are you really going by your introverted self?
Just as quickly came the answers (in order).
I don’t know and I don’t care.
I don’t know and I don’t care.
Me. No. Yes
So I hemmed and hawed with Pastor Sandy, wanting to make sure I would not be raining on his parade, asking if, well what would he think, would it be OK if I went with him. He looked at me for the longest time. I thought, “Great, he is trying to figure out a polite way of telling me to stay home.”
But instead he said that sure, I would be welcome. Wow, OK now I had kind of committed myself. But I gave myself an out. I told him I would have to run it by Donn Gaede our board chair and my administrative team here at the hospital. (Read: I am going to sleep on this and see if I still feel the same way in the morning, if not I will save face by having them tell me no. Smart, huh?)
But by morning the impression and desire to go was just as strong. I got the green light from Gaede, Fobbie and Koroma, and started looking at airline tickets. It was definitely a bit more than I wanted to spend, but I was committed now. Besides the conviction was growing that I needed to be there. To be honest, I really didn’t know why. I mean, beyond the dates I knew nothing about this “campmeeting”. I didn’t even have a speaking appointment.
More questions without answers:
Who would be there?
Would they resent my being there? You know the American white guy showing up uninvited, unannounced.
Would I be able to overcome my natural shyness and be able to smile and not look grumpy all the time?
And so on.
As the time got closer those questions got bigger, especially since I didn’t get a copy of the schedule until 5 days before I was scheduled to leave. When I looked at the schedule my heart sank a bit. I had thought Pastor Sandy was the featured speaker, being the SLM President and all, and I was hoping that since he knew me he would at least introduce me and give me 5 minutes or so to say something about AHS Waterloo. But he was on the program only Sabbath afternoon, doing a Marriage/Family breakout session. I consoled myself that at least one of his daughters would be there and I really wanted to meet one or both as the oldest Jewel is an ophthalmologist and the younger one Jenny, is a CRNA (Anesthetist). Hannah, his wife would be there and I knew her, and so I was looking forward to seeing her. And I would have a bit of time to spend with Ronnie and Kermit Netteburg, so there were good things. And lastly I had gone into this fully informed that it was a $2500 gamble, but one I felt convicted to take.
The Sabbath before we left was the Thanksgiving service I wrote about. It was during Pastor Sandy’s sermon that I began to get an idea of what I was in for. I found out the reason behind the long pause when I first suggested the idea that I would accompany him. He was not trying to figure out a way to say no, he was trying to get his head around the idea that I would be willing to go. I kind of blind-sided him, in a good way. I also found out who was putting on the campmeeting. TAASLA, The American Association of Sierra Leonean Adventists. There would be folks there from all over the US. And Pastor Sandy was excited I was going to join him. OK, so now I had to go. I was pumped. Until…
The devil is always there to throw curve balls isn’t he? Sunday I got an e-mail from Air France. Seems their Cabin Attendants (Stewards and Stewardesses) were on strike July 27 through August 2, and so a lot of international flights were being cancelled. If I wanted to re-book I could do it for free, or even cancel and bank the fare for use within a year.
I was scheduled to leave August 2, on a flight from Freetown to Paris. It seems like African flights are always the ones cut, you know the old thing, “no one cares about Africa.” Seriously if you have a choice of cutting a flight between JFK and Paris or Freetown and Paris, which do you think Air France will choose to cut. And it is not like there are flights out of Sierra Leone every few hours. Not even every day. By now the conviction that I needed to be there was overwhelming, and so we prayed. Bekki got her prayer warriors praying. In worship the next morning, Monday, James Abu led us in a special prayer that my flight would depart as scheduled. I went to the Air France office on Monday to talk with them. They assured me the flight was a go. Although that was better than, “No it is cancelled,” I was still nervous. We kept praying. Tuesday morning I finally got the e-mail that I could check in for my flight, I began to relax. God intervened and Air France cancelled lots of other flights but mine was on time. Praise the Lord.Pastor Sandy and I went to the airport together. We had two hours to talk and share visions and dreams that we had for Sierra Leone, and just to get to know each other better. The respect I already had for this man just exploded.
The trip across the pond was uneventful, I had a great time with Ronnie and Kermit, enjoyed an Olive Garden Salad, listened to the Marine Band on the Capital Steps, and made a needed trip to the General Conference to deal with some matters.Thursday afternoon I drove up to Hagerstown to Highland View Academy. Registration was from 1-5 pm, I got there a few minutes after 5. No signs, in fact the place seemed deserted. I went to administration and they directed me to the Boys dorm. I went there. Someone was putting a sign up on the door. I went inside. No registration desk, no one in the lobby, but I heard voices down the hall. And there I found Mr and Mrs. Kamara talking with the boys dean. Now one advantage I had the whole weekend is that I kind of stood out, if you get my drift. And my AHS Waterloo Hospital shirt didn’t hurt either. Since it was obvious I didn’t work at the school, and was here for the campmeeting introductions were soon made. When Kamara found out who I was he wrapped me in the biggest bear hug and with tears in his voice welcomed me to campmeeting. That set the stage for the entire weekend. I don’t think I have ever been so completely and unconditionally adopted by any group of people like I was by TAASLA. I was immediately an honorary Sierra Leonean. Most of them had grown up in SL and had gone to school together. This was the first campmeeting they had had in 4 years, and they did indeed come from all parts of the country, even one family from Mexico. So it was a homecoming of sorts. Pastor and I were accorded all the time we needed to share about the gospel and health ministry that is happening at home. We emphasized the close relationship the SLM (Serra Leone Mission), AHS (Adventist Health System) and ADRA (Adventist Development and Relief Association) have in SL. We shared our vision for higher education, ie a university in SL, we shared our vision for the health work, and for the ultimate spread of the gospel. I got to spend time with the Sandy girls. Jewel, the ophthalmologist, shared with me her vision for starting an eye clinic at Waterloo, and even developing a residency program there. Jenny would love to come and spend time in our OR, helping and doing education. I received invitations to speak at their churches, and may even get a chance to speak at the academy this fall. It was a blessed, inspiring, Spirit filled weekend, that gave me memories I will cherish forever. I count it a privilege and honor to work in Sierra Leone, and to be able to connect with this dear group of ex-pats. Next campmeeting I will be there, and by God’s grace Bekki will be there with me.
Epilogue: Sabbath morning while I was at Campmeeting, Bekki and Erin exited our front gate to find this little gift.
Meet Happy Day, or HD for short. Here when someone says “Happy Sabbath”, the response is “Happy Day”. Since HD was found Sabbath morning, she was named Happy Day. She was extremely malnourished, exhausted and covered with sores. She ate well Sabbath, like a starving little pup, then threw it all up. For two days she barely ate or drank. We started forcing water with coconut milk down her with a syringe and after 36 hours of that she decided enough already and began to eat. She is still skin and bones, but now acts like a puppy, hopping, jumping, playing, barking at the intruder dog in the oven door, and eating like a pig, even getting a bit choosy. You will most likely hear more about our new addition, and her brother who is currently in Erin’s generator shed with his brother and sisters. He will join us when he is weaned. It starts, ominously.
For those of you who are new to our blog please look around at the other pages, the “About” page tells a bit of who we are and our background, the “Definitions” page explains some terms that are used that some of you may not be familiar with, such as GC or AHI. The “Timeline” gives an idea of where we will be throughout the year, and the “Video” page has a video Bekki made of Koza Hospital as well as the videos she has made of Moundou, and now we are adding videos of Sierra Leone. Watch a real Ebola survivor tell his story. Watch our community health officer explain why the staff agreed to work in the Ebola Red Zone even after they lost 2 staff members to Ebola. There is also the Surgical Pictures Page, but be forewarned, it has some very graphic pictures, so if you don’t like blood and guts, stay away from that page. On the Projects and Donations pages you can find the projects we are working on and how to donate to the project that touches your heart. Finally, if you like our blog and want to receive each new post directly to your e-mail, please sign up with your e-mail in the subscribe box. It doesn’t cost anything, there is no commitment, it just makes it easier to follow us.
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