Monday, August 31, 2009
Baba greeted us at the gate and had prepared a delicious chicken curry meal. Driver Greg, wearing an especially nice suit and tie, made a special trip to the guesthouse just to meet Mark. On Monday he’ll meet all the other wonderful people. For now, he’s reuniting with The Sandman.
But like anywhere, there are some bad cops. Nigerian police have a reputation for being corrupt, and a staff member at Faith Alive told me about his experience with them. Years ago he was falsely accused of stealing some items from a university. The police arrested him and threw him in jail, where for seven days he was taken to a dark room at night. Handcuffed behind his back, he was hanged by a chain from his hands and beaten with barbed wire. He fasted and prayed that entire week, and even gave his food to others. As a result, a Muslim gave his life to Christ that week. The real thieves were eventually discovered, and the staff member was set free. However, it took a year for him to be fully exonerated and reemployed by the university. On top of all that, last November his home was looted during the crisis and he lost almost everything.
Healing has been a journey, but he has now forgiven those who tortured him. His advice? Sustained fasting and praying ceaselessly for his enemies to be blessed. He’s just another Faith Alive person who, by God’s power, has grown from victim to victor.
Friday, August 28, 2009
Okay, these kids aren’t the target market, but they’re eager nonetheless! (Click on photo to enlarge.) Faith Alive owns some property about a block away from the clinic and is transforming it into a park. The long-term goal is to build some permanent housing for guests or doctors, but in the interim it’s being used as a Rec Center for kids of all kinds. Shegu, head of Faith Alive’s children’s programs, said it will soon be open, probably on weekends, when Faith Alive can supply adult volunteer supervisors. My bet is that groups visiting Faith Alive will spend a lot of time there playing with neighborhood children.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
If a picture says 1,000 words, then I needn’t say anything. Can you believe this girl is almost two and a half years old? Her Muslim mother wears about a size 14 (American), while her helpless child’s body swims in baby clothes. She weighs a mere 6 kg. They came into Faith Alive today and Nurse Caroline started them on a regimen of vitamin-fortified penaut butter. Within a month, if her mother follows all the instructions, the girl should be back to life. Praise God that neither of them is HIV+, and that soon there will be 'after' photo opportunities.
It’s difficult not to judge the mother, who slapped the back of the girl’s head when she uttered a weak cry. With God’s grace I’ll follow Jane’s motto: ‘Not what came before but what next to do.’ In the meantime, I have a headache.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Tuesday I sat in the lab with Johnson and learned about counting soldiers. Let me explain in children’s terms, which is my level of understanding when it comes to science. Johnson realized his technical terms were flying above my head when I admitted that on my SAT I’d randomly circled answers to science questions. Patients who are HIV+ need to know how sick they are so they can get treated appropriately. Someone sticks a needle in your arm and takes blood from your body in ‘the screaming room’ (I named this after I heard children wailing behind the closed door). Your blood is then taken to the lab for testing. In the west we can measure the actual viral load (the bad guys), but here we have to rely on a count of people’s CD4 number (the good guys). The higher the CD4 count, the more good guys, or ‘soldiers’, you have in your body that are fighting the bad guys.
Johnson says a healthy person has 500 – 1,500 soldiers working for them. Actually he used terms like lymphocytes and T Cells, but I hope you’re okay with my terms. Anyway, when HIV strikes, you start to lose soldiers. When you are down to 350 soldiers you can decide to start taking medicine every day for the rest of your life (or until there’s a cure). If you have 200 or fewer soldiers, you have full blown AIDS and really need the medicine. If you take it, you can increase your soldiers above 200 and you will not have AIDS any more (but you’ll always have HIV). There you have it. Johnson wanted to tell me more but I told him that was enough for today. I’m happy knowing that HE knows what he’s doing.
On another note, I’m getting a bit homesick. I’ll be really glad when Mark’s here.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
It never ceases to amaze me how people at Faith Alive live so positively even though they suffer. Truly, their strength can only come from God because no human power can transform such hardships into genuine joy and praise.
Daniel is a hardworking, professional, and jovial staff member. As Store Manager, he ensures that all non-medical goods are received, stored, and dispersed appropriately. His office is always crowded with people stopping by. They say they want something from the store, but I think it’s because he’s always smiling and encouraging others. Nobody sees the callouses on his knees from praying incessantly for his charming three year old son Chris. Named after Dr. Chris, he desperately needs surgery to repair the hole in his heart. Please pray that our current attempts to secure a hospital and doctor to donate their services and provide airfare will be successful. Without surgery little Chris will most likely not live into his second decade.
‘Grace’ is a beautiful, joyful, and caring mother of two children who has graduated from a skills-training class at Faith Alive and now runs her own shop. Because of stigma, she’s asked that her name not be used (but those of you who’ve been here know her real name!). At 14, her stepmother beat and locked her in a room for two weeks prior to an arranged marriage to a 31 year old man. His AIDS complications later left her widowed while her mother and father-in-law kept the children and chased her away (children belong to their father’s family here in Nigeria). Desperate and also HIV+, she came to Faith Alive for help. Dr. Chris was a father to her, giving her housing and even begging the in-laws to help her. They refused. So she had to smuggle her children who now live where they belong – with their mother. By God’s grace, she has forgiven her in-laws and now even sends them some of her earnings.
Monday, August 24, 2009
This weekend I confirmed that my life’s calling is NOT in medicine. Dr. Mercy performed some surgeries and I could only watch part of one (hernia repair). She and another surgeon also operated on a man who’d supposedly had prostate surgery at another hospital. Faith Alive suspected that it hadn’t really been removed, and they were right. Rather than dishonesty, however, the problem was total incompetence -- the other surgeons had cut the prostate but left it in the bladder!
After surgery I sat through interviews with children who receive school scholarships through The Angel Program at Faith Alive. Currently 65 students receive aid, aged nursery through secondary (high) school. They are the fortunate ones, because over 200 children are on the waiting list. Only one child per family can apply, and they attend a variety of schools. (Elim and Hwol Yarje schools are separate from The Angel Program.) I read that the Nigerian government ranks very low in amount of money spent on public education. Actually both public and private schools charge tuition.
On Sunday I spoke at Church of Christ in Nigeria, Tudun Wada. A nurse at Faith Alive invited me to talk about the clinic and encourage them to either access services there, or donate and/or volunteer. I encouraged people of all ages to be part of the solution. They were especially interested to hear that one youth at our church sacrificially sponsors a Save-A-Life patient for $183 per year. I won’t mention her name because she’s humble, but she knows who she is.
Sunday was also Emily’s birthday. She’s Drs. Chris and Mercy’s eight year old daughter. We celebrated by eating at AfriOne, a favorite restaurant of Nigerians and foreigners. The food includes both Nigerian and Western dishes, and they sell breads, pastries, and ice cream. Emmy chose ‘Blue’ ice cream and I picked my favorite here, ‘Smack’ (type of chocolate and nuts). I’ve been invited to join Emmy’s birthday party at school tomorrow. She is envious that her brother Prince celebrated his birthday in the United States this spring, so I told her that Erika from America came to Nigeria for her birthday. Amazingly that seemed to do the trick.
Friday, August 21, 2009
It’s about time for an uplifting blog post, so here are a few happy photos. Please enjoy!
There's a Nigerian card game called WHOT. It's similar to UNO but they refer to the shapes as 'bowl' for circle and 'carpet' for square. I play it with the policemen guarding our guesthouse. Two days ago I was the champion, but yesterday Basheel took the title. I'm going to challenge him today. I don't let them win, even if they DO have the guns!
The food here has been EXCELLENT! Baba, our cook, makes hearty meals (mostly carbs) and I'm sure I'm putting on some weight. We do get some fruits and vegetables, although they make up a small portion of our overall diet. I also drink full-sugared Coke (which seems to be available in even the most remote villages).
Most of the visitors here have been getting sick -- colds, stomach problems, etc., but so far I've escaped everything.
Thanks for your prayers. This trip has been very worthwhile and while I miss home, they're taking very good care of me. :-)
We pulled into the pediatric unit at JUTH and our nurse gave the letter to an admissions person. She took one look at the baby and said angrily “This isn’t an emergency. Why do you insist this is an emergency? Ay, this baby has been here before and we need to see her hand-card.” Each patient in
We did return to JUTH with the hand-card, and fortunately they saw the baby girl we’d brought. Our nurse said the mom had her baby’s adenoids removed about 9 months ago, and not by a doctor. She must’ve gotten an infection (was it HIV?) and had just failed to thrive. Our nurse gave the mom 3,000 Naira (about $20) and her cell phone number, and plans to follow up. There wasn’t anything more for us to do.
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
I'll keep you updated about the next possible dates for our travel to Lagos. Maybe we should change our prayers to having the Lagos people miraculously release the meds so our travel would be unnecessary -- that would be the best. Again, thank you.
I won’t reveal her name here because she believes other Nigerian pastors will judge her. Recently she gave an HIV awareness training to a group of pastors. She put them in small discussion groups. Unknown to the pastors, she’d included some HIV+ people among them. She asked the groups to discuss why people get HIV, and whether or not HIV+ people should be allowed to marry HIV- people. The judgments were rampant. After much talk, she revealed the HIV+ people’s identity (but not her own), and the pastors' eyes dropped. They were so ashamed of their words. They apologized, and some wept. It was a start, but there’s still a long way to go for pastors and ‘The Church’.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
The low was seeing an 11 year old Muslim girl brought to the clinic by her older sister. She is HIV+ with a low CD4 count, and was gasping for breath. Her parents are HIV-, so she was probably raped by someone. As if that weren't bad enough, she was severely anemic and needed to go to an inpatient hospital for a blood transfusion and iv fluids. She could barely walk -- we had to help her take a few steps. The sister may or may not take the girl to the hospital. Reasons could include the cost, or that the family may not want to have the stigma of and care for an HIV+ person. I can only describe this as purely pathetic. Someday Faith Alive will expand to include inpatient care; that day will not be soon enough.
Monday, August 17, 2009
The weekend was filled with eating, eating, and more eating! Friday we were treated to a delicious dinner at Hill Station, undeniably the nicest restaurant in Jos. Saturday we shopped at a Fair Trade Shop connected with Ten Thousand Villages. I bought a matching outfit for Mark and me, although it’ll take some convincing to get him to wear it! That evening we had dinner and a party at Faith Alive, complete with authentic cultural drummers and dancers. It was a chance for the Nativity team to say their goodbyes; they left this morning. Sunday I went to a Catholic Church with Greg (our driver) and Jane (Save-A-Life staff) in honor of Jane’s thanksgiving (see previous blog). We danced in the aisles, and a live goat, eggs, and palm oil were given at the altar (a ‘first’ for me!). After that we joined the support group for encouragement and praise.
I’ve learned not to walk outside our compound any time after 6 pm. Yesterday was the first time I’ve ever been afraid here, when Blessing and I were walking from Faith Alive to the guesthouse around 7 pm. The cars were coming fast and close (we have to walk on the broken road since there aren't sidewalks). One driver yelled at me for not moving over, and then pulled over and got out. I feared he was coming for us, but fortunately he stopped and talked to someone else. Other people were giving me 'the evil eye,’ which a few Nativity people also experienced. This was all near the neighborhood brothel where business was attracting flies, so to speak. Next time I’ll have a driver take me, or just not go out. Maybe this is a lesson and preparation for our trip to Lagos on Thursday.
Last night Nkiru had the television on to a 'West Africa Idol' -- reggae night. Interesting to hear a little Bob Marley!
I spent the day with Jane who sees SAL patients when Dr. Chris isn’t available. She connects with them because she’s also known poverty. Her father died when she was eight, and it was a struggle for her widowed mother to care for four children. Today she is married to a good man and they are raising three beautiful children. I met them on Sunday when I went to her house for ‘thanksgiving’ (a special celebratory meal in honor of her husband’s healing after a bout of bad health).
Today we added a new SAL patient, bringing the total to 176! Theresa, a woman from Nativity Church in Maryland who’s also here, is the newest sponsor. It’s always a memorable occasion when a sponsor and patient can meet. After some awkwardness, we sent them off to enjoy a ‘mineral’ (soda) in the kitchen and get to know each other. What do you say to someone you know would die if not for your support? How do you adequately say thank you to someone who’s committed to saving your life?
Photos of SAL patients reveal the faces of healthy people who are living positively. Confidentiality prevents me from posting their photos online, but I plan to mail photos to their sponsors. Instead I’m posting a photo of Jane at AfriOne, a local restaurant, after her interview. May you see Jesus in and through her.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Today I interviewed the Operating Theater Coordinator/Anesthesiologist, Luke Bot. He volunteered periodically at Faith Alive in the past, but joined the staff in February after working 35 years for the government. Asked the difference between Faith Alive and government hospitals, he looked at me as if I’d asked the difference between night and day. “It’s so glaring,” he said. Government jobs are just that – jobs. People at Faith Alive see their role as a calling, and actively invest in the poor, the widows, and the orphans.
Luke says the greatest surgical needs are ‘gadgets’ (tools and supplies) and people (doctors and nurses mostly). Surgeries are performed by volunteer doctors, both local and international. Since May they’ve performed 25 surgeries, from appendectomies to a total abdominal surgery (thanks Dr. Kieft!). You’ll see in the photo how the current operating table is being supported by an upturned stool. Faith Alive has a newer surgical bed stored in a container, but is waiting until after the rainy season to get it. The hard rains come suddenly, the table is underneath a lot of things, and they can’t risk taking things out and ruining them in the rain. Luke assures me the table’s sturdy as it is. It was wonderful to see boxes of surgical gloves that were once in my garage ’warehouse’ in Colorado. Please contact me if you’re able to donate any surgical tools or supplies, want to make a donation, or can volunteer at the clinic (any anesthesiologists out there who want to support Luke?).
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
The interviews have begun! I intentionally waited until the second week here to start them so I could settle in and reconnect first. I ‘set up shop’ in my flat, with a makeshift desk for writing and a sitting area so my guests can be comfortable. They must feel at home because each interview is easily two hours! It’s not good to rush when telling such personal life stories.
Yesterday I interviewed Amos Toye, the university lecturer and architect who donated his skills designing the current three-story hospital. Years ago he was the only survivor in a crash that killed the other six people in the vehicle -- he sustained third degree burns over 55% of his body. Fast forward over a decade to the former Faith Alive building’s fire in 2006 that destroyed all the medical records and equipment. Amos drew from his own experience to rise from the ashes and rebuild. This time it wasn’t his life, but the life of the clinic.
I spent today with Kate Clement, headmistress of Elim Elementary School. Before she had this position and became Faith Alive’s ‘Mama’ of the HIV Support Group, she was a widow’s daughter who had lost her father and four siblings during or right after Nigerian’s Biafran Civil War in the 1960s. Against many odds, she continued her education to complete a Master’s degree while being a single parent after her first husband abandoned her. She started Elim school in her home, teaching seven children English, and has expanded it to a 12 room school with 160 students and 13 teachers. She has since remarried and counsels others to have hope in Jesus Christ.
The photo of me is with Faith, the little girl at Elim I usually ‘snap’ in front of the blackboard.
Lagos Update: Dr. Chris and I now plan to travel there NEXT Wednesday - Friday. We've had to change our plans to accomodate the Nativity team. The name of the game is 'flexibility.' Thanks for your continued prayers.
Monday, August 10, 2009
Sunday morning I worshipped at Pastor Ben’s church. What an inspiration to be part of all the dancing and singing during the 2 ½ hour service -- what a joyful way to praise God! I hope to visit a variety of churches while I’m here, including Pastor Esther’s. I’ll miss two Sundays: next Sunday I’ll be in Abuja waiting for a Monday flight to and from Lagos, and Sunday the 30th I’ll be in Abuja to pick up Mark.
Dr. Chris and I plan to travel to Lagos to free a large order of Save-A-Life medications from captivity. I don’t really understand the problem, but apparently going in person with all our documentation will help the lifesaving meds leave Lagos and be transported to Jos. The boxes were supposed to be sent to Abuja but the pharmaceutical company in India made a mistake. Please keep us in your prayers for safety and success, as patients’ lives literally depend on this medication.
This afternoon we went to a nearby stadium and watched the Faith Alive soccer team. They won the state championship earlier this year, but unfortunately lost today’s game due to a penalty kick. Beyond the cement stadium wall we could see the four mosque pillars – something we don’t see in Fort Collins.
We left the game early to go to the Support Group. Over 100 HIV+ people filled the room for another two hours of singing, dancing, laughing, and crying. They meet each Sunday afternoon to encourage each other. Pastor Esther says we are all positive – either with HIV or in our hearts.
Saturday we drove over two hours to the satellite clinics: Kafanchan and Bakin-Kogi. A few years ago Faith Alive realized that a sizeable number of their HIV+ patients were coming this distance for medications. After doing HIV tests in those areas and discovering a 30% positive rate, they started work on these satellite clinics. The head of the support group at Kafanchan is so grateful to Dr. Chris that he gave us two live chickens (which traveled back to Jos in the van with us and fought occasionally as their feet were tied together). I imagine they knew their destiny (our dinner tonight?) and were taking it out on each other.
The Bakin-Kogi site is nearly ready to open once the water system is established. It’s surrounded by soybean fields, swarms of children, and a borehole machine that will drill the well. While there, we paid our respects to the village chief who’s mourning the loss of his eldest relative. As we walked with the chief down the dirt road back to the van we were surprised by a series of gunshots only 5 or 6 yards away. Some of us froze while a few others of us (or maybe it was just me!) ducked to the ground in fear. How reassuring to hear Dr. Chris say “Oh, don’t worry, this is an African custom.” Apparently it's a common tribute to fire shots in honor of a deceased person. Note to my friends -- this will not be necessary for my memorial service.
Friday, August 7, 2009
I sponsor a young woman through the Save-A-Life program. It means that I’m responsible for her lifesaving ARVs (anti-retroviral medications for HIV) over the course of her lifetime, for just 50 cents a day. I co-lead this program through my church (First Presbyterian Church in Fort Collins, CO), and we are currently saving 175 AIDS patients. They now lead productive, healthy lives and many are teachers, pastors, counselors, seamstresses, etc.; some are even employed at Faith Alive. Please contact me if you would like to sponsor one or more patients for $183 per year (and thanks to you who are already sponsors).
Anyway, I deemed today ‘Girls’ Day’ and treated this young woman (who will remain nameless for privacy) to a Nigerian spa. The day included getting our hair done and having our toenails painted at the Faith Alive Salon School, all for the price of about $6. After 2 ½ hours she felt beautiful while I had to sneak back to the guesthouse to rewash and fix my hair in a non-beehive style. Small pink curlers and African gel are not to touch my hair ever again! However, getting my hair washed in warm water was worth the experience. After the salon I bought her lunch at the new Faith Alive Da Adi café where she had authentic Nigerian food and I sipped a Coca-Cola.
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
And let’s not forget Dr. Chris’s children: Emily, Prince, and JoJo. They are healthy, educated, and being taught Christian values (and bible verses!). The Isicheis are a healthy model of family, not only for Nigerians but for Americans and others as well. While no family is perfect, Drs. Chris and Mercy are very intentional about raising Godly children. They were delighted with the toys I brought them: Spiderman Punch bags (for the boys) and Hello Kitty pencil and paper set (for Emily). Emily is very proud to be turning 8 this month while I’m here, and has reminded me many times that her birthday is August 23.
Tomorrow we hope to go to the market to buy fabric so Blessing and the sewing school students can begin making our colorful Nigerian clothes. I’m excited to have new outfits that weren’t purchased at Kohl’s! Speaking of clothes, it’s time to get in my jammies.
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
There are so many impressive improvements in just the four months since I was here. The xray machine and surgery center are operational (pun intended), the Faith Alive Café (‘Da Addi’, I think) is cooking Nigerian food, and what was once an empty lot is now an empty lot with a barbed wire fence and some play equipment. Soon it’ll be a joyful place for neighborhood children to gather.
It’s been a good but tiring few days. I’ll sign off, get in bed under my mosquito net, and drift away to the sounds of people on loudspeakers, generators humming, and rain hitting the roof. In the morning I’ll wake up to roosters crowing, more loudspeakers, and women getting water from the well and hanging laundry on the line. Amazingly I can sleep through most of it. Goodnight, John Boy.
Monday, August 3, 2009
It's been raining most of the time. Last night the sound of pouring rain even drowned out the 4 am prayers blaring from loudspeakers (if you've been here, you'll know what I'm talking about).
Today has been filled with sweet reunions with some of my favorite people. It's reassuring to know that I'll be here for six weeks to have quality time with them. I felt so rushed when I was here in March for just two weeks. The Nigerian way is relaxed and relational (much like you've read about in 'Three Cups of Tea.' ) I hope to drink a lot of tea!
That's all for today; my mind has energy but my body is tired. Everyone here sends their love.