Category Archives: Africa

God With Us – Merry Christmas Everyone

I want to start out making a theological disclaimer. I am not discounting the virgin birth, on the contrary it’s significance in the Incarnation is amazing, but it does not hold daily, hourly, fascination for me. It is one of those miracles that I read about and think, cool, the intricacies of God are amazing. But in my daily world, I just don’t give a lot of thought to the virgin birth. I do give thought to Luke 1:37. This verse embedded into the middle of this profound story holds the key for me to many things. It is this pivot point where I get one of the significances of the virgin birth. “For nothing will be impossible with God.”

This Christmas season there is a word in this verse that has jumped out to me. More about that later.

As I said, it is hard for me to be amazed at the virgin birth. It just does not resonant in my daily life. My wife is not pregnant. My children are grown. And while many of my kids friends are getting married and starting families, I am still at least 40 weeks away from being a grandparent. (This in NOT an announcement!!!) The closest I get to thinking about birth is the work I am doing in Malawi, building a couple of birthing centers, but even there, we are in construction mode, not “push ’em out” mode.

The word that jumps out at me in Luke 1:37 is ‘with’. I grew up hearing sermons about being the hand and feet of God, but did not really pay attention. Wisdom is wasted on youth. Anyway, the word ‘with’ has more meaning to me now as an slightly wiser, if still not very mature, adult. As a nation and the world we spend a lot of energy and time on ‘with’. As a rule, we are ‘with’ creatures. Creatures who long for community, acceptance and a place of belonging. In our personal lives we are ‘with’ the Diabetic Online Community, our church both locally and internationally, our circles at work, our Starbucks Barrista’s, our families, we are just one big interconnected circle of ‘with’!

As I view our need for connectedness and the desire to be ‘with’, it occurs to me this is another area that has been perverted from our original design. There are so many of us whose first thought is not of others but of ourselves. The opposite of ‘with’.

We have been privileged to be ‘with’ the dear people of Malawi this year! It has been a wonderful and fulfilling time and we are trusting that it will continue in 2013 and beyond, but I am reminded today, Christmas Eve, that WITH is wherever we are. Who is my neighbor? Yep, the folks in the DOC, the Barrista’s, the servers in the restaurant, the flight attendants I see weekly, the church, our family and literally our neighbors and our friends in Malawi.

This past year we have experienced WITH first hand; through the nurses and doctors, meals and words of encouragement. We have seen people who make less than $20 a month share all they have to show the meaning of WITH to their neighbors.

God is reaching out to each one of us to celebrate the fun times and to comfort us in the hard times. How? WITH! He has chosen to us to literally be His hands and feet. Remember that campaign several years ago that passed out those little red buttons that said “you are loved”? As a teen I thought, “how corny”; as an adult, I begin to get the significance. We connect to God when we listen to His prompting a to Love others. WE are the tangible way God shows His love to others! WE ARE THE WITH!

It humbles me to be chosen to be WITH you. It is an awesome provoking thought to me that God would place anyone on my mind and heart and in doing so reach you in the moments of your need! It is the image of a kindly Father reaching out his arms to give you a hug of comfort and say, “there, there child I am WITH you”.

God reached out to us and sent His Son to be WITH us, so nothing would be impossible WITH Him!

Spend some time this Season WITH others, you’ll be amazed at the impossible that happens!

Merry Christmas!

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First World Third World

I am finding it difficult to write about my African experiences. The multiple images and experiences are almost too overwhelming. Recently, while working on a US project the difference and similarities between the projects were drawn into focus.

I had tried to write previously about my visit to the Salima District Hospital. Even now, a month later I am still very upset by the images and memories from that visit. Visions of multiple people in one bed, family on the floors, no screens on windows, body parts waiting for disposal, facilites in disrepair, charts showing maternal and infant deaths, numbers of babies born with malaria, are still fresh in my mind. Infants typically are not named until 6 months of age, they are not considered human beings until then because the mortaility rate is too high, it takes too much energy and resources to constantly have public funerals for these precious babies. A staggering 40% of children born here do not reach their 5th birthday. These conditions, while horrible by our standards are quite good in the countryside in Malawi. People walk for days to get to this hospital.

The new birthing center and hospital that we are beginning to construct has the potential to reduce the infant and maternal mortality rate by at least 50%! We are literally saving lives.

Contrast this to the projects currently underway in the States; State of the art centers and hospitals with the best care, and outcomes. BUT we assume that quality care is a given. We rarely, on the facility side, discuss mortality rates. While what we do as healthcare facility engineers relates directly to quality patient care, infection rates, patient satisfaction, etc., it is so transparent in the States, or at least is supposed to be that the patient rarely gives a second thought about all the work done on their behalf by the staff regarding life safety. What we do discuss on a daily basis is cost. Cost of construction, cost of systems, ROI’s, etc. Now, a caveat, my political leanings are pretty simple, I am a capitalist. I have an entrepreneurial heart and mindset and while I am a gadget guy, I want those new gadgets we install to be cost effective, operationally sound, and fiscally profitable.

To be very pragmatic, our focus in the States is financial, while in Africa our focus is lives. I spend most of my time in the States dealing with issues that relate to the bottom line of the project or facility.

I was very surprised that one of the outcomes of my trips to Africa was the realization that lives are also the focus of what we do in the States, it just gets covered up by all the other first world issues. It has been an excellent reminder that in healthcare we save lives and improve the quality of life for our patients no matter what continent we are on!

Proud to be of service.

Jon

The Curtain

One of my favorite pastimes is people watching. We are a very interesting species. I was able to enjoy this pastime at 31,000 feet on a recent transatlantic trip. I was sitting in the first row of economy on a 767-400ER (for my fellow aviation buffs). The seating configuration was two seats an aisle then three seats an aisle and two more seats.i was in on the right aisle of the middle section. This is not just trivia it is specific to my scope of vision.

So in front of me, was the bulkhead, with a restroom and galley area and First Class beyond that space. The aisle immediately in front of me had a curtain that was pulled during flight to separate the First Class cabin and the Economy cabin. It was not a solid curtain, but was made of a blue mesh material so you could really see through it. This was done so the flight attendants, when coming with their carts from the galley to the riff raff of economy, would not run over a poor soul standing in the aisle. However, an embroidered sign was sewn onto the curtain with the words in all caps “BUSINESS ELITE CUSTOMERS ONLY BEYOND THIS POINT THANK YOU”. The other detail that made this interesting was that because of the mesh fabric you could see the wonderland of First Class and the restroom literally just on the ther side of the curtain. It was the first thing you came to when passing throught the curtain.

Now the enjoyable part: The whole planeful of people could be broken into a couple of categories, happy rule followers, reluctant rule followers, angry rule followers, and of course the rule breakers. It was interesting to watch the rule breakers. They were really only two subcategories I noticed; reluctant or recalcitrant is probably a better word, and flagrant.

I looked for similarities in the subgroups, physical similarities, (come on! what else are you going to do for hours on end trapped in an aluminum tube?) but could not really pinpoint any physical similarities, but there were definite personality types.

The rule breakers were easy. Those of us who barely noticed the curtain and sign and went through because we needed to be in that tiny little room and good grief, it’s right there! And those who paused to read the sign and marched through after reading it. On reflection I’m not really sure which subgroup I am in, but I’m absolutely in the rule breaker category.

It was most amusing and confusing to me to see the angry rule followers. Was this worth the energy to be angry and if you were that bothered why not just push through? I suspect these folks spend much of their lives disappointed by unmet expectations.

The happy rule followers, all stopped, read the sign, made a comment like, “oh” and turned around and went to the mid-cabin restrooms. They expended little or no emotional energy on a situation in which they had no real vested interest. I guess I would like to be more like these folks. This was also the smallest group. I saw only one and one other that I could not decide if they were in the happy group or the next group, the reluctant rule followers.

The reluctant rule followers were the biggest group. These people were dissappointed that they had encountered a barrier but quickly turned and found the other facilities. The person I was not sure she was a happy rule follower or a reluctant rule follower had a quick flash of irritation cross her face but it was very fleeting. In general these folks did not spend emotional energy on an obstacle in their path, but just went around assuming there was another solution.

I wonder what would have happened if there was a large line at the other facilites? How many would have moved from the reluctant to the angry group or one of the rule breaker groups?

Anyway it was a fun, meaningless way to pass the time. What group are you in under normal circumstances? What group are you in under stressful circumstances? Are you always in the same group or does the situation dictate your group?

“Too much time in a tube”
Jon

Great Adventure # 2

I had tried to post this several weeks ago from Malawi, but did not realize it did not post…hereitis belatedly.

Great Adventure #2

We made it to Lilongwe, Malawi about 23:00 local time. After clearing customs we found our driver who took us our hotel. We discovered that the lines down the middle of the road are really a loose suggestion. It was quite a ride!

After a solid nights sleep we retrieved our rental car and I acclimated myself to the middle of road, as well as driving on the left. We toured the city for a bit, more for me to get used to driving on the left than anything else. After I did a round-a-bout clockwise rather than counter-clockwise, I felt I had it under control. We went back to the hotel for directions to Salima and to get some local currency.

The day was bright and beautiful, it is winter here and the morning tempatures were in the low 50’s but as the day progressed we were grateful for the AC in the car.

The road was pretty good. I was amazed at the amount of foot traffic. There was not a stretch of the two lane road where people were on bikes and walking.

We made it to Salima after a few hours and found the clinic and our hotel.

The clinic is a beautiful building and as soon as we pulled up, kids from the nearby orphanage started asking “what’s your name?”. It will be good to interact with the this week.

We got checked in, had a late lunch and explored the compound. We are staying at a hotel on Lake Malawi. I can literally walk out my back door and be by the lake.

We met up with Brad and his family at dinner and will head to the clinic in the morning, to develop a game plan for the rest of the week, including trying to get power to the well.

I will get more pictures tomorrow when I am not trying to navigate, drive and see everything at the same time!

Grace and Peace

Jon

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What a difference a year makes!

What a difference a year makes.

A year ago…..

I didn’t know if:
Barb would survive cancer
She would remain in her wheelchair
Our dream of working overseas would become reality
We could continue to pay for college
Military engagements would continue to keep parents worried

I didn’t know:
Glenn Alexander
bensonwedd
Malawi
Peter
Priscilla
Kyle
Jeremy

This year I know:
Barb is cancer free and RUNNING RACES: take that wheelchair!
The warm heart of Africa, Malawi
The joy of returned income to pay for school
A daughter NOT deployed AND transferred to a Post much closer to home
Many, many new people who are positively effecting my life daily

What will I know next year that I do not know today? When I reflect next year, whose lives will I have effected and will they be better because of the interaction? What and where will I be doing? Coke is running an ad campaign in Africa that really caught my attention. Their tag line is, “while the rest of the world is worrying about the future a billion Africans are enjoying a Coke”. I would like that to be my theme this coming year. I want to live in the moment, enjoying the people around me, valuing them for who and what they are.

What doors will be opened to us and what doors will be closed, and will we be smart enough to know which is which? One of my favorite cartoons is the picture of the kid trying to get into the gifted school, pushing on the door that is clearly marked pull. I really hope I do not spend too much time next year pushing instead of pulling!

Blessings on each and everyone of you!

Peace, Love, Faith and Hope!

Jon

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NEXT!!!

The last time I wrote we had just thrown our Wiggin Out Party where we had folks shave their heads and Barb had her head shaved before all her hair fell out from Chemo.

That was a year ago! Most of you know our story but let me recap:.

  • 8 rounds of Chemo
  • Double Mastectomy
  • Emergency Surgery
  • SimonPalooza!!
  • Radiation
  • Mother-in-Law’s Double Mastectomy
  • Mother-In-Law’s Emergency Surgery (Like Daughter Like Mother! Or Monkey See Monkey Do)
  • Back to work part-time
  • Back to work full-time!!!

What a year!

Barb is doing well. She still is in recovery mode and gets a little frustrated at times that it is not faster, but really is doing well. She is a Warrior and I am very proud of her. She has not only weathered this storm but has sailed through these hard waters with Joy and Compassion for others. She is remarkably strong and quick to credit the true source of her resolve and strength, her faith in God.

Just a few short months ago I was also presented with an opportunity that I felt drawn too as the correct course of action for us. I applied for a vacancy on our City Council. After several months of interviews and vetting I was appointed to our Council. A week before I was to be sworn into office, several things occurred that clearly indicated to me that this was NOT something I should pursue, Barb’s continued health recovery and additional work responsibilities were just a few of those factors.

Now to the real reason to begin writing again: In July I will be heading to Malawi to help support One5 Foundation and Global Health Innovations build a Birthing Center in Salima, Malawi.

Global Health Innovations is a non-profit organization that exists to design, implement and manage medical programs focused on providing solutions to save lives…one village at a time.  GHI is passionate about providing health care for vulnerable children in poverty-stricken areas that often do not have a voice.  Sometimes the simplest solution can save a life. Sometimes it’s more complex. In any case we are tackling three large issues: malaria, HIV/AIDS with our HITSystem, and orphaned and vulnerable children in need of basic health care.”

Below are the building plans developed with our dear friends at bensonwedd.

Building A has already been completed and the next efforts will focus on Building ‘B’ with construction starting in August 2012, building ‘C’ will start in 2013.

Building B contains 2 OR’s and clinical space to support those OR’s.

I am thrilled to be a part of this journey and proud of our company for pursuing this dream.

Stay tuned!

Peace and Hope

Jon