by Dr. Jennifer Wilson
Writing a blog about our final day is very difficult. I have run out of time to say all that I want to say about this remarkable team and our remarkable 2017 mission.
Preparation for our last clinic on Thursday began at 0200 when NEA gave out 180 tickets to the elderly, the women and the children sleeping on the ground outside the gate. In a lovely gesture, they moved this large and vulnerable group inside the gate to ensure they would be seen before the big crowds arrived in the morning. Dr. Perry looked great in his birthday tiara at breakfast, but the party was cut short. With crowds swelling at the gate, we were at our workstations by 0730 to begin what would be the largest clinic we have ever run in Ghana. Each team cared for record number of patients and by day’s end, this compound provided high quality health care, surgery, dentistry and eye care to over 900 patients in one day! Our surgical team finished this mission with 296 procedures performed. I still don’t have final laser numbers as the entire eye team rushed out of dinner with an “all for one, one for all” cheer to help run an after-hours clinic. This total also does not include the patients treated and sent home for minor ailments, or the lines of patients who received acetaminophen for their joint pains, or the hernia patients seen and listed for last year. What a day it was!
At 3:00 pm I received my inspiration quote from Caitlin while I was consulting on a patient. I glanced down and what I read made me start to cry:
'You have been my friend,' replied Charlotte to Wilbur. 'That in itself is a tremendous thing.' - E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web.
This little line from this famous children’s story tugged at my heart in a big way and my poor patient and my poor translator thought I was having a mental breakdown. These words, said by a spider to a pig, crystallized for me why this mission has been such a tremendous thing.
The growing friendships amongst our leaders and team members, our deepening friendship with NEA staff, and the professional friendships we have developed with our Ghanaian colleagues all while serving wholeheartedly together is very unique and very special. So it seems really fitting to me end off with a tribute to our Ghanaian health care colleagues who will continue this work when we are gone.
Together, this enlarging group of friends eagerly await the opening of the doors of the NEA hospital. Everything is in place and everyone is ready to move full speed ahead. Momentum and excitement are at all-time high. If we could raise just raise a few more million dollars (obvious fundraising pitch), the capital campaign will be complete and this self-sustaining, model hospital can open its doors to meet a critical and desperate need. After what we have witnessed these two weeks, we collectively agree that the day cannot come soon enough. Until the time that our Ghanaian colleagues and friends can stand on their own, we, the enlarging “NEA fan club” ... or perhaps I should say “NEA friendship club” ... will continue to do what we can to help, by all means, because that is what friends are for.
Now that our work is done, we are all missing our loved ones and ready to begin our long journey home. This is a great opportunity to say a big thank you to all our families, friends and colleagues who have made it possible for us to spend these two weeks in Ghana. Without your love, practical support, and financial support, this could never have happened. Thanks for journeying with us!
I’ll close off this mission with one of my favourite little prayers by John Bailee:
Make me a more worthy following of the One who cared for the sick and the oppressed. Let your power, O Christ, be in us all, to share the world’s suffering and redress its wrongs. Amen.
by Dr. Jennifer Wilson
Today, all 66 of us ran our clinic right on the NEA compound for the many, many, many villages that surround the Carpenter area. We were shocked by the crowd already gathered outside the gate as we walked to breakfast at 0615 today.
It was so lovely for all of us to be working so closely together on the compound with the luxuries of bathrooms, hand washing sinks and improved crowd control due to the fence around the NEA compound.
Preliminary numbers from yesterday indicated that today was the largest clinic ever run in the history of our Ghana Health Team with approximately 750 patients being cared for by our medical, surgical, dental, eye and laser team. At 3:30 pm I snuck away from my workstation to pay a little visit to tall our teams. I’m hoping I can take you all on a little tour ...
.... Despite all that happened today, we were so happy to join one other for dinner by 7:00 pm, and I’m sure you have realized by the title of this blog what was on the menu. That’s right. One of the emus who many of us love to visit regularly “took one for the team”.
We felt bad for the poor guy until we tasted how delicious he was -- as was the carrot and ginger soup, whole wheat rolls, chicken stir fry with rice, salad garnished with beets, beans and carrots, french fries, roast potatoes and fresh watermelon. Teams of NEA kitchen staff are essentially working around the clock to prepare our food every day.
Although today was an amazing day for me, it was also very difficult. Some of the cases I saw involved so much suffering. After consulting on a group of women who had very serious but easily treatable conditions that they had been suffering with for years, I needed to take a minute to compose myself. Even my translator was rocked. “The women really suffer in this place,” he said to me. He is right. I’m beginning to understand why so many of NEA’s programs focus on the women, as the suffering they endure is beyond my comprehension at times.
As we walked out of the main gates to our residence tonight, many men and women and children were already sleeping on mats by the front gate, trying to secure a place in our last clinic tomorrow. It seems a good part of the country knows tomorrow is our last day and my prayer, as this day ends, is that tomorrow we will finish well and our hands will get to those who really need our care.
by Dr. Jennifer Wilson
Tuesday morning while we were eating breakfast, the rains came down. While this delayed the departure of our mobile team and made the condition of our road to Asantekwa rather “interesting," we were thankful for the storm. It cut the humidity and with the temperature dropping by just a few degrees, we had a much more comfortable day of work for us. I noticed a few hoodies and winter coats on some of my patients.
Anticipating a very large crowd, our NEA logistics team arrived at Asantekwa at 0400 to organize the lines using ropes and vehicles. Let's just say they got a standing ovation from us all at dinner, as their creative crowd control measures allowed us to do our job with greater efficiency and effectiveness.
Some of you might remember that this is the village that a young woman died in our clinic two years ago. She came too late with a very serious medical condition, and despite our best efforts we could not save her. This death has and continues to deeply impact those of us who were there that day, and the root cause of her death has been a catalyst for some specific NEA programming that is now in place as part of the Leyaata Project. Today, Dr. Carlye and her translator Rachel, who is a Leyaata staff member, consulted on another young woman, who they were able to quickly discern was in that same situation. They intervened quickly and with help from NEA arrangements were made to urgently transfer the young woman to a hospital to prevent what surely would have been another needless death.
The eye team has been very busy seeing lots of interesting cases like vitamin A deficiency, central vein occlusion, congenital cataracts and glaucoma. Our laser was hard at work with 21 patients, and many of last year’s patients are returning for follow-up with wonderfully normal pressures in their eyes. As Dan reported tonight, their “clinic ballet” is so highly rehearsed that the team is working at maximum efficiency. “We may not be saving lives, we are making lives," he said at dinner. I don’t disagree with Dan often (he is much smarter than I am) but I would argue they are doing both. When a farmer is given his sight back, he can now farm, and his children can now eat and go to school and are saved from diseases of poverty. The child growing up blind with congenital cataracts will not live to adulthood here. Their interventions and the ripple of their intervention are both making and saving lives!
Our dental team were faced with three very serious cases and with the assistance of our Ghanaian maxofacial surgeon Dr. Richard, all three cases were successfully dealt with. One was so serious that Greg, our team paramedic, had to rush in with his backpack crash cart and start some emergency IV medication stop a hemorrhage. Dr. Richard is now one of us. In fact, I just passed him placing a game of cards with Greg, Aaaron, Renee, Esther and Nicole under our gazebo!
The medical team applied every LEAN principle of efficiency to get through our massive crowd. With nursing constantly screening the crowd for the sick and treating minor ailments right from triage, we all worked steadily until the entire crowd was seen. Pharmacy carried a very heavy load of prescriptions with their usual grace, despite dodging bat droppings all day. At one point our nurse Esther (who works on an adult cardiac surgery ward ) was managing with ease at least four patients on IV fluids hanging from the rafters ... half of whom were kids.
Back on the compound the surgeons started their day with another emergency case involving a two year old with an incarcerated hernia. He had been up all night screaming and vomiting in pain. Dr. Perry noted how rewarding it was to finally see that little one settled and comfortable as he recovered from his successful surgery. They had a very long day as eight of their cases required general anaesthetic. Oh, and there was an escape! Their last patient of the day was prepped and ready for a hydrocele operation and when it was time to roll him into the OR, he was gone. NEA staff went to try and find him but word on the street was that he was just too scared, ran away and was now in hiding. Poor guy.
There were many special moments scattered throughout this extremely busy clinical day. Dr. Carlye had a marriage proposal and wisely began to tell this gentleman about the weather in Canada. The proposal was revoked! One of the NEA pastors has been working very hard in his orchard this season to bring us a bag of his best oranges. Francois offered to say grace for dinner reciting the grace that he learned in as a little wee cub scout just a few years ago. And last but not least, I got a 20 point cribbage hand (without cheating) and almost skunked Dr. Charlie.
But the truly unique moment of this day involves the title of this blog. It happened to David Mensah, who went out to the village to search for the runaway surgical patient. As he was coming back towards the gate, he heard two men arguing. The topic of their argument — angels — caught his attention. One man was saying that these white people, bringing healing to the region, must be endowed by God with the spirit of angels. The other man was saying that no — we were just humans who have chosen to develop an angel spirit here on earth. David thought he would stop and listen. Just then Dr. Martin popped out of the residence to say that the power was off. The man turned to David and said “See, there is an angel right there." (Side note to Heather: we are really trying not to let that go to Martin’s head.)
The one man then started to roll up his pant leg and started banging his leg. He told David that last year he had been to every hospital in Ghana with an infection that was causing his leg to rot. No one could help him until he visited our clinic and now his leg is perfect. He continued to argue with his friend (all the while banging on his leg) that the doctor and nurse who treated him were real human beings but they had developed the spirit of an angel to the level that was finally able to cure him. He was at the gate because he wanted to be first in line to come find his human angels to thank them.
Finally, not knowing they were talking to Dr. Mensah, they said to him, "And we also hear that there is a Ghanaian angel who coordinates all of this help from afar. Are you from around here? Have you heard of him?”
Oh, how David laughed when he told us this story, but he wanted us to know that his people are absolutely confounded by what they are seeing here. “You are angels to the people of the Mo tribe. Angels that come to stir the waters at the pool of Bethesda," David concluded. He ended our evening by challenging all of us to continue to develop the spirit of love, compassion, generosity and service to humanity that brought us to Ghana — to this special place for this very special time of service.
By Dr. Jennifer Wilson
Today’s blog is dedicated to Dr. Joshua Smith, our colleague and team member who could not be with us this year. Our team misses you, Josh, and our best wishes and prayers are with your family at this time.
When David and Brenda Mensah returned to Ghana to begin their integrated development work, David became very discouraged. Everywhere he looked there was suffering. Simple basic human rights like having clean water to drink did not exist. At one point he said to his wise wife, “Brenda, did we make the right decision to come here?”
Her response was this — “David, we will save them one by one”.
David is very wise too and he knew that we needed to hear this story today. As the crowds swell to proportions we have not yet seen and a hernia wait list that seems likely to reach 400, discouragement can set in as we begin to feel like the dent we are making is so very small. David reminded us that the only way to move forward is to deliver quality health care one by one and then watch to see the ripple effect. We must never underestimate what God can do with one life saved. We might be saving a David Mensah who will grow up and be a game-changer for his people. We might be saving a child who will one day be a difference-maker to his or her generation. When we save one man from hernia we save up to a dozen lives, because now that man can go back to his farm and there will be income to feed his family and send them to school. The ripples can spread far and wide as individuals are healed, communities are strengthened.
Today I had a special little “one.” Dorcas is 4 years old. She swallowed battery acid and was dying of malnutrition when she came to see us a year ago. It was a devastating situation and we did not have the capacity to do anything to help her. Leaving her in the capable hands of NEA with extra funds we raised, a referral was made to the highest level of care in Ghana. A lot has happened over the year and today this beautiful, happy, robust little girl paid us a visit, along with her mom and 3 uncles, just to say thank you. Dorcas’ only problem was that the family could not afford a critical medicine that she needed. Our wonderful pharmacy team happened to bring a 6 month supply of a very similar medicine and we were able to provide it to this family whose love for this little girl was just so apparent.
At dinner Dr. Chris gave a brilliant surgical team update that he organized by talking about something sad, something nice and something funny. I don’t think Chris will mind me copying his idea, so I present to you my top three list of sad, nice and funny events of today along with one extra category — interesting.
1. A surgery was cancelled today as the patient appeared to have advanced lung cancer with little time left to live.
2. A child from a very remote village who had a very, large painful growth between 2 of his toes for the past 2 months with no medical care. He could not walk. The suffering of this little one pierced my heart and the heart of Dr. David Hunter, our mobile surgeon, as we collaborated on how to help him.
3. We are seeing an unusually high incidence of orbital tumors that appear to be arising from the sinuses. Research is definitely required.
1. My Amelia was given a very special medal of honour by her nursing colleagues at dinner. Amelia worked in the oral rehydration (ORS) station today. She was responsible to ensure the mothers gave specific amounts of ORS every 15-30 min over a 2-hour period to the dehydrated babies. At one point there were about 8-10 babies in ORS at once and it was madness in that room. Her medal was a sachet of ORS tied around her neck with a string.
2. Dr Richard, a Ghanaian oral maxofacial surgeon from the teaching hospital in Kumasi arrived today to join our dental team.
3. We found a short cut home tonight that shaved 55 minutes off our commute!
1. The places (on our bodies) we place our little package of frozen Fandango that Steve delivered around 2:00 pm as we are all wilting from the oppressive heat.
2. How easily you can talk yourself out of really needing to go to the washroom when you walk into certain latrines.
3. A team member who, in an apparent act of revenge, used another team member’s personal tupperware container as a receptacle of a certain bodily fluid. Said tupperware shall not be returning home.
1. That a 10 year old girl can carry a huge pile of 3-4 foot thick tree branches on her head and remove one hand from the load to wave to us.
2. Ghana children don’t whine and seem to always do what their parents say the first time they are asked.
3. There is such a thing as a mushroom sandwich!
One of the quotes that Caitlin delivered during her 3:00 pm visit to us all said
I will not change the world; Jesus will do that. But I can change the world for one person. So I will keep loving one person at a time. – Kate Davis
Thanks to Brenda, David and Kate. The message we needed to hear on this day was very, very clear, and despite all that we are seeing, hearing, feeling, experiencing, and processing we will spend the next 3 days bringing our very best love and deep hope and tender healing to these wonderful people of Ghana … one by one.
Note: The following is a summary of the first session of our fall study series on the Reformation. If you are interested in receiving the handouts from the session, please email Fr. Don at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To be sure, it is impossible for anyone to summarize the historical events that led up to the Reformation and unfolded in the decades afterwards. Countless volumes tell of the dramatic chapters of one of Western Christianity’s most tumultuous movements. Yet a few words can offer us a glimpse into the political, social, and religious landscape that gave birth to the Reformation.
While many consider Martin Luther the father of the Reformation, the seeds that gave birth to the movement were planted decades before him. John Wycliffe, a name familiar to many Anglicans, was an English priest in the late 1300s who raised many of the points that Luther and other Reformers would later develop. Critical of many of the common practices of the Church at the time, Wycliffe was the first to translate the New Testament into Middle English from the standard Latin Vulgate Bible. Wycliffe’s words and actions quickly brought him to the attention of such figures as the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of London, and even King Edward III.
Wycliffe’s commitment to the primacy of Scripture led him to question religious practices that seemed to wield greater authority than God’s Word. Moreover, he challenged the wealth and power of the monasteries, clergy, and even the pope. Although he was not condemned as a heretic and to certain death in his lifetime, his teachings were condemned in a synod convened by the Archbishop of Canterbury. It wasn’t until many years later, at the Council of Constance in May 1415, that Wycliffe was declared a heretic. His remains were removed from consecrated ground, burned along with his writings, and his ashes cast into the river.
A contemporary of Wycliffe, Jan Hus, met a fate much worse. Like Wycliffe, Hus was a priest who also condemned many of the practices of the Church of his day, including indulgences and the authority of the pope, particularly as it related to the Crusades. Despite protection from Sigismund of Hungary, the King of the Romans, Hus was tried and condemned to death at the Council of Constance in a humiliating ceremony that stripped him of his priestly robes and identity. Despite demands for him to recant his teaching, Hus rejected and was burned at the stake in July of 1415.
Despite the attempts to quell the growing reform movement, many began to question the authority figures of the day. Tragically, those in Church leadership failed to fully comprehend or even properly respond to the clarion calls for reform.
In the years between the condemnation of Wycliffe and Hus, radical scientific, political, and cultural changes took place and likely fanned the flames of reform. While those of us in the 21st century often think of ourselves as a rare generation to have witnessed technological and cultural changes unlike any other age, we forget the radical changes of the 15th and 16th centuries. In that period alone, Gutenberg invented the printing press, European explorers extended their reach across the globe, Copernicus offered his heliocentric theory, and the Renaissance gave birth to artistic, scientific, and cultural accomplishments never before dreamed of. The world that was familiar to many was quickly changing.
Tragically, however, not everyone was open to change. To be sure, the revolution unfolding around them compelled those in power, often popes and high-ranking churchmen, to remain ever firm in their ways. Rather than address the concerns of theologians like Wycliffe and Hus, those in authority continued to advocate the selling of indulgences and ignore the many abuses committed by many in their own ranks.
Such was the world into which the young German monk, Martin Luther, would embark on his life-long project of reform. Although never intending to cause a division in the Christian Church, Luther questioned prevalent church practices that seemed to assure people of their salvation more than Christ’s redeeming work as accomplished upon the cross and in his resurrection. Luther desired to shift our hope in cultic practices to the assurance of our justification in Christ Jesus. Indeed we are sinners, but we are always justified by the grace of Christ. There is nothing we could ever do to accomplish our salvation; rather, Christ has won for us our salvation. We need but have faith in him and his promises.
What began as a simple challenge to debate with the sharing of his 95 theses, Luther unwittingly began a life-long project of reform and inspired many others to further reform in places such as modern day Switzerland, France, and England and forever change the face of Western Christianity.
By Dr. Jennifer Wilson
Sunday morning began with a church service under the trees and canopies of the Carpenter compound. David Mensah arrived wearing his traditional regalia of the senior chief position he holds in this tribe, a role in which he leads other chiefs. The service was full of dancing, singing, testimonies to God’s faithfulness over this mission and then Pastor Jacob preached the sermon. He spoke on the story of Esther. When impending danger and death were facing her people she took action and she arose ‘for such a time as this.’
“We are writing our own Bible story here,” Pastor Jacob kept repeating over and over again. It was a service none of us will soon forget.
After church, Dr. Rob Hicks asked David to explain his role as senior chief, and, gathering under the mango tree, a large group of the team received an amazing lecture on Peace and Conflict in Ghana. This is a key sector of NEAs development work and David uses his role as senior chief to train local leaders in peace and conflict resolution techniques. He works very closely with the chiefs, many of whom are now Christians, to teach them to lead ethically and Biblically. Maintaining peace in the Mo tribe is so critical to the development work here.
After a lunchtime celebration of Margaret’s birthday with our little banner and tiara and a shoebox of treats collected by Francois, our afternoon was filled with wonderfully relaxing activities: napping, attending one of three book clubs and playing games under the gazebo. Dr. Neil ran a fun activity in the dining hall where everyone brought their devices with 5 favourite pictures from back home and pairs would have 5 minutes to share with one another about their 5 pictures after which you would rotate to a new partner.
At 4:00 pm our weekend of rest came to an end and all teams went to work to prepare for what will be four more very busy days of work. By suppertime we were ready to go. Suppertime is definitely worth noting. David Mensah carved two big NEA turkeys and we enjoyed fresh tomato soup with homemade croutons followed by turkey dinner complete with roast potatoes, gravy, stuffing and fresh vegetables from the NEA gardens.
I didn’t think I would have any patient stories to tell you today as we try very hard to allow our team to rest and be off duty on Saturday and Sunday. It is the only way they can maintain the pace of their work for the rest of the week. We put measures in place to have all medical emergencies directed to Dr. David and Collins, our Ghanaian colleagues. This is why I was so surprised to received the report at dinner of four very special patients and a truck.
Dr. Andy noticed a sick child sitting near him during the church service and recognized impending danger. The grandmother scooped this limp child up to take him home but Dr. Andy intervened. He mobilized his nursing team and diagnostic team and they treated this child for severe malaria with injectable antimalarials and watched him until he was safe to go home.
Nurse Sandra and Dr. Carlye were heading to the residence for a nap when they came across an exceptionally unhappy child and a worried mother. This 2 year-old had a strangulated hernia — impeding danger once again. They quickly brought him into the compound where one of our surgeons, Dr. Elke, was just exiting the lunch room. Her hands of mercy reduced the hernia and the child’s screams of pain immediately stopped. His surgery would have been done in the morning but he also has malaria so it will be deferred until Thursday.
Surgical nurse Aaron was strolling around a noticed a woman slumped over at the gate. Taking the time to find a translator he discovered this woman had been walking for three days to get to our eye clinic to have her glaucoma treated in her left eye. She was blind in her right eye already and was desperate to get to our eye team to save her from blindness. Aaron took it upon himself to find Dr. Martin and Dr. Toylin and within minutes the laser was fired up and her eye was saved. She was then given food and a place to stay before she would make the long three day journey home.
Dr. Kyle and Garrett and Greg were heading to the residence for some R&R when they noticed a big truck stalled on the side of the road. The driver was under the truck dealing with a leak of some sort. With dental head lamps on they tried to fix the problem but to no avail. The took it upon themselves to find NEA’s chief mechanic and successful emergency surgery was performed with a welding iron. I wish I could describe the look on David Mensah’s face when he heard this one!
So much for shielding the team from work today! Each of these cases involved impending danger or death (well maybe not so much for the truck) and like Esther, our team made a choice not to turn a blind eye. Rather, they chose to arise, to take action for such a time as this.
At the end of the church service we were asked to greet one another with a hand shake and the blessing “May it be well with you,” and so it seems fitting to extend the same to all of you — our loved ones, family, friends and colleagues following our time of service here. May it be well with you.
With love from Carpenter and thanks for all of your wonderful comments. They continue to be one of our daily highlights!
By Dr. Jennifer Wilson
Abraham allowed our exhausted team to sleep in today! The youngsters were a bit shocked and disappointed to realize that a “sleep in” meant breakfast at 0800! As we walked up the drive we could see quite a commotion under the gazebo. NEA had arranged for a local artisan and other vendors to set up their wares. With nothing to spend any money on for the past week, a shopping frenzy ensued as our porridge got cold and some serious cedis were spent. The look on the artisan’s face, seeing 66 of us filling our bags and baskets was quite priceless. He generated a year’s worth of income today.
After breakfast many of our newcomers took a walking tour through the Carpenter village. As they were touring the health clinic the cries of a newborn baby were heard after which, the Leyaata community-based volunteer who had brought the woman to the delivery popped out of the room to greet the team. Nurse Judy and Dr Anne said it was an emotional moment for them to see the Leyaata Project, which they had just heard about the evening before, in action. They were also amazed that this woman would be accompanied home by the Leyaata worker in a couple of hours, most likely on foot. Another needless death prevented.
Meanwhile a group of us veterans had a personalized tour of the newer NEA projects by Dr Mensah himself. The chicken farm, which had 1500 chickens the last time I saw it, now has 10,000 chickens. We saw the new rabbit and quail farm and the expanding mushroom operation. The aquaculture program continues to advance to higher and higher levels of reproductive technology as NEA is supplying more and more Tilapia fingerlings and catfish to a greater region of the country. Soale gave us a PhD level lecture on how this process takes place.
After lunch a crew took off to the market where Magdi assured them there was free wifi. They enjoyed the busy market and had some interesting negotiations. Unfortunately the wifi was not free nor did it exist at all!
Once the temperatures dropped a few degrees in the late afternoon, a first ever NEA vs GRID volleyball game was enjoyed by all. NEA beat us 3/3 but it was great, competitive volleyball! Then the teams moved to the football pitch and another great match took place. It turns out Dr Mensah is one agile football player but our pharmacist Elise had him marked well! It ended in a tie 1-1 so as darkness was falling, the game was settled with penalty shots. Dr. Perry surprised himself and us all when he stopped all but one shot and the GRID team emerged the grand champions. Now … football is the national sport here in Ghana so it might be best for me to qualify our “championship” with a few comments. We might have had twice as many players on the field as our NEA friends. It is also quite possible that they may not have given their full effort. In fact, I asked one of the NEA staff how much they held back to help us to win the game to which he replied “Doctor, we want you around next week so we held back, but only by 50%.” Poor Katie took a ball to the face and with no icepacks around here, some brilliant person found a frozen Fandango that quickly did the trick and she recovered with no problems.
The event we had all be waiting for finally arrived after dinner. It was time for the second annual “Ghana’s Got Talent,” and 66 of us and many of our Ghanaian colleagues piled in to the Mensah living room where were treated to spread of candy and cookies and coffee and tea. It was a night that left us all with sore faces and bellies from all the laughter that took place. Do you want to hear about a few of the acts? Of course you do!
The show was opened with the simultaneous singing of the national anthems of the 10 countries represented on our team. What a sound to hear anthems from Northern Ireland (Dave), England (Karin), Ghana (Emmanuel), Wales (Rob), Canada (Leslie), Judy (USA), Magdi (Egypt), France (Francois), Germany (Elke), Aaron (South Africa) and Ghana again (David Mensah) all being sung at the same time.
Then the fun began. Accompanied by Dr. Dan (a professional jazz pianist extraordinaire) on his portable keyboard, Carlye and I sang “Ghana man” to Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” and I do believe we got a partial standing ovation! The Triage song followed, with a group of nurses marching off to war wearing medical face shields as helmets and foley catheters as swords. Martin, who always has a way with words, wrote us all a wonderfully entertaining poem. The “Pharmaceuti-gals” lip synced “I Want a New Drug” by Heat Lewis after which they tossed pre-packed smarties into the audience. We enjoyed a “Faulty Tower” episode by Francois and Neil and those of you who know Francois can only imagine … Our UK friends, who usually tell me they are too reserved for this sort of thing, came up with a incredible heartfelt rendition of “My Hernia” to Tom Jones’ Deliliah that the entire surgical team performed. Reservations are gone! Greg did his first ever stand-up act and knocked it out of the park. Then the Village People arrived in costume and our eye team gave us one high energy re-written version of YMCA that became GRID/NEA. Next was a relay race led by Dr Charlie, Dr. Anne and Caitlin. The first team to complete the following tasks won: opening 5 boxes of wormee, putting on a glove that is too small, squatting 10 times on a latrine, wrapping a baby onto your back and carrying a heavy bowl on your head across the room. Francois, Katie, David, Greg, Anne, Ashley, Elise, Elena, Jo, Nicole and Kathleen were fabulous and they had us literally rolling in our seats with laughter. The evening closed with a ballad that Abraham wrote for us with the lyrics “what our skills could not do, you have done for us. What money cannot buy you have done for us.” It was touching. Finally, executive producer Sue sang a beautiful song (with Dr. Andy as her back up on the water bottle shaker) as a tribute to David Mensah.
Time with old and new friends. No clinical duties (except for Rob making his surgical team clean their store room). No distracting technology. A soccer ball. A football. A talent show. Some candy. It was such a simple day yet so profoundly refreshing and rejuvenating to one and all as we reach the halfway point of this mission for which we are running out of adjectives to describe.
By Dr. Jennifer Wilson
Everyone in the clinic eagerly anticipates 3:00 pm every day when Caitlin, our international development student (who is responsible for our medical records and statistics) visits every team member. She carries a “Keep Calm and Carry On” tin which contains a little sheet of paper with inspirational quotes and a small treat. Today I will open and close with two of yesterday’s quotes that arrived to us with a piece of ‘Double Bubble” chewing gum.
The world is full of good people. If you can’t find one, be one. – Mother Teresa
Dr. David is a new Ghanaian physician who was sponsored through school by NEA. He divides his time learning new surgical skills with our hernia team and working with the medical doctors in the village. When I work with David, I am reminded of how special our Ghanaian physicians are. They are very well trained, very thorough, and they remain so compassionate and patient regardless of the many challenges that come while (or should I say whilst) trying to provide care in a low-resource setting. We had a surgical emergency in the village today where I was reminded yet again of the calibre of Ghana’s health professionals. Dr. Elke was our surgeon in the village who dealt with this emergency. We consulted with Dr. David, whose first question to the patient was “Do you have health insurance?” When the answer was no, we asked each other whether our surgical team at Carpenter could handle this case. Dr. David’s response, “Please, it is his only hope. If we don’t try and save him he will simply die. By the time we got home from the clinic, this young man had been operated on by Dan and Magdi (with David Mensah observing, I hear) and the surgery was a success. The world is full of good people.
Nurse Rita just completed her nursing training in Ghana and is another one of NEA’s scholarship students. Rita has been a joy to work with and is bubbling with enthusiasm. As part of this team she has a chance to work with 13 nurses with a wealth of experience and she is soaking up every minute. We had a little boy in the clinic with a very unstable knee due to a football injury. His MCL and ACL was ruptured, so walking was difficult. I sent him over to our nursing station to see if they could rig up some kind of support for his knee. That sweet boy returned with the biggest smile on his face with nurse Rita, Nicole and Judy, wearing a perfectly fitted knee brace that gave him enough stability that he now walk freely. Team funds will be needed to assist him with the surgery he will need. The world is full of good people.
Our dentist Kyle is here for the 7th time. He had a very special patient from the Fulani tribe in 2009 and she returns for her annual check up every year. Kyle has been taking a picture of her and her large family every year. This year, he gave her printed copies of these family pictures. Can you imagine? Later than afternoon this woman presented Kyle with a chicken. You must understand the Fulani tribe of migrant cattle workers are the poorest people in Ghana. Yet she has given her dentist this expensive gift. The world is full of good people.
After dinner, team reports were enjoyed by all. Our surgical team say there are not enough adjectives to add to awesome to describe their last couple of days. Thus far, 150 hernias have been repaired and Rob believes they will meet the target of 300 by the end of the fortnight. (By the way, fortnight is my new favourite word). Perry and Eric (now referred to as Team Stellar) diagnosed a child with congenital heart disease, and this morning he will be seen by Dr. Anne our paediatrician and Dr. Charlie our heart surgeon. Oh, and newlywed nurse Mel received her first marriage proposal — I think that is 4 in total for our surgical nurses.
Nurse Sue gave a wonderful report on behalf of our surgical nursing team, Garrett on behalf of our dental team, Elise on behalf of the pharmacy team (who enjoyed 30 minutes of power today), and Jane on behalf of the eye team. We are not driven by numbers around here, but just to give you a sense of the scope of the work of our medical, dental, and eye teams, over 2,000 patients have already been cared for. Wow.
After dinner we gathered in the Mensah living room where David gave us his own quote worth noting: “We have come into agreement with tender hearts that everyone deserves things like clean water, food, education and health care. He introduced Mumuni, who is manager of the Leyaata Ane Project designed to rescue moms and babies from dying in childbirth. Between 2016 and 2017, 3814 pregnant women have been visited and assisted to deliver in a health facility and all of those babies are visited 3 times in the first week of life to look for danger signs such as fever, poor weight gain and jaundice that would require an emergency referral. Support and capacity building in neonatal resuscitation was provided by Dr. Carlye and me in 2015, but our Ghanaian master trainers have scaled up the ongoing training and support: neonatal resuscitation and early newborn care has been extended to 79 health workers and 105 traditional birth attendants. As a result, 1145 babies who would have died at birth were successfully resuscitated between 2016 and today. Our team was speechless. As a result of this program, which receives funding support from Global Affairs Canada, the neonatal death rate has dropped from 40-50/1000 to 5/1000.
Dr. Mensah concluded our evening but sharing a little bit about the vision for the “Leyaata Hospital“: a 50-bed model hospital, staffed and run by Ghanaian health workers under the leadership of NEA. A hospital that is desperately needed right now. Back at home we are working very hard to complete the capital campaign and we are well over the half-way mark. This campaign will provide the funds to build and run the hospital for 3 years after which it will be sustainable — just like every other NEA program. Dr. Rob, who was part of our one-year hospital feasibility study, is hoping to put some of the engineering drawings up in our dining room for the team to enjoy. Please see the GRID/NEA website if you want more information about this hospital — our collective dream come true!
The last quote on our little piece of paper yesterday was
Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Proverbs 31:8-9)
This week our team with tender hearts have spoken up and we have defended the rights of the poor. Every day the Leyaata team with tender hearts is speaking up for the babies that cannot speak for themselves. And the day is coming soon when the Leyaata Hospital, full of tender-hearted Ghanaian health professionals like Dr. David, nurse Rita and pharmacist Emmanuel, under the leadership of NEA, will be defending the rights of the poor and needy for generations to come. I pray really hard that as we add more good people and more tender hearts to the NEA fan club, these hospital doors could be open sooner than we think.
By Dr. Jennifer Wilson
The morning commute to Yaara is always interesting. After about 20 minutes on the main road we turn on to a dirt road that I fondly refer to as “Washboard Avenue.” After another turn, the road becomes more of a path lined by tall grass. Every once in a while we would pass a small village or a school. All the while the road seems to get narrower and narrower and the pot holes deeper and deeper. After crossing the amazing Makbraneth Bridge, we got momentarily stuck in a big mud puddle. Thankfully, our expert driver Simon got us out of it before we had to decide who would do the pushing.
Just under two hours later we arrived in beautiful village of Yaara, the place where David Mensah was sent as a young boy after his father died of a hernia. David explained it was a village that mistreated him so severely that he had to escape yet, many years later, it was one of the first villages that NEA brought its development work to. David speaks about this in detail in his book Kwabena.
After such a long and bumpy bus ride, many team members reluctantly headed to the latrines. Suddenly there were whoops of joy as we discovered brand new, never before used latrines built by NEA and the Makbraneth Foundation. These latrines had doors. These latrines had locks on the doors. These latrines had … wait for it … toilets, which quickly became known as thrones! Oh my, there was such a commotion as people started cheering from behind those doors and I believe it was nurse Joan who broke out into the Hallelujah chorus. The latrines were the topic of the day in the lunch room!
The school was quickly transformed into a a clinic due to the coordinated efforts by every member of the team and our Ghanaian volunteers. It is a logistical work of art (thanks Kim, Steve and Dave) as every canopy, hockey bag, table, chair and even garbage bag gets to the proper destination. While we were setting up, the beating of the drums began and soon the women started to sing and dance. The team made their way over to join the dancing, but Dr. Sue and some of our nurses had to miss the ceremony as they were attending to a critically ill teenager who needed stabilizing. David’s brother, Chief Joseph, and his elders were seated and had a great laugh watching us all trying to dance to a beat that we cannot quite find with sweat pouring down our faces in the already well over 30 degree heat. I have to say Dr. Anne and Dr. Charlie won the prize for most enthusiastic dancers!
When the drums stopped, greetings were exchanged and Ashley Gayton (one of our surgical team members who joined us today) presented the chief with a gift and Margaret from the eye team presented a gift to his wife. Dr. Rob and Elena brought a soccer ball for each village and Amelia presented that as wide-eyed little boys and girls looked on. The Assembly Man then spoke eloquently on behalf of the Chief and Elders and explained that our annual visit over ten years has become a strong motivating force to them. Our efforts and our presence year by year has motivated their community to do more and more to help themselves and improve their situation. For example, they have been advocating for many years for a health centre in their community and he announced that approval has been given. Soon a nurse and a midwife will be posted in the newly built Yaara health centre to provide year round care! We have all been praying and waiting for that day! He also commented that their health has improved not only because of the medicine and surgery, but because their community’s consistent interaction and socialization with us has added to their health enormously. The ceremony concluded with the presentation of a ram, more yams and large piles of fresh pineapple, papaya, watermelon and bananas that neighbouring villages contributed to the group gift. The chief then called my daughter forward and his wife Hagar handed her the gift of a live chicken. As Dr. Andy said at dinner, the look on Amelia’s face as she held that chicken was priceless! The chicken fell out of the pickup on the way home but survived his attempt at escape. Poor guy.
All sectors of our clinic ran so well today and one patient at a time was treated with compassionate, highly quality care. Team spirits were very high despite the blistering heat. Our pharmacy and dentistry station were surprised and thrilled to be working in a brand new three-room school with electricity and fans. Sherry’s happy dance unfortunately only lasted for about one hour when they lost that precious power and out came the reliable old generators once again! It was an “hour of power” our pharmacy team will never forget.
Some of you will remember stories of Joshua, David’s nephew who, seven years ago, almost died from severe pneumonia while we were in Yaara. This tall growing young man paid us his annual visit and it seems like yesterday to many of us that we almost lost him as a sweet little baby.
Our newcomers took a brief walking tour through the village and salty bus snacks (highlight of the day) were handed out thanks to our Hunstville friends of John, Jenn, Cheryl and family. With God’s help, we arrived safely back on the compound before dark.
Back at home base the laser clinic was busy restoring sight and putting another big dent in the epidemic of glaucoma here in Ghana. Our optometry team is already talking about the next step — which would be cataract surgeries. No pressure Dr Toylin!?I’d love to report on how our surgical team’s day went but they still were still in the operating theatres when we all left for bed at 8:00, completing the 40th case of the day. What a long day they had, but they will be happy to enjoy another amazing meal of Fufu from Lucy’s yams and guinea fowl tomato soup. Apparently Lucy’s guinea fowl gave the NEA staff a very hard time when they tried to catch them.
Today was a day where our team values of service, teamwork, sensitivity, professionalism and resilience continued to come to life in so many ways by so many individuals in Yaara and on the Carpenter compound. Our sixth unofficial team value is “to have fun along the way,” and we are all thoroughly enjoying every moment of our time with our dear friends at NEA and the people of Ghana.
by Dr. Jennifer Wilson
There are moments during every mission when I realize afresh that the beautiful people of Ghana are no different that you and I. I realize that sounds like an odd statement. However, when you are dealing with a culture that is so different from ours and when poverty is staring you in the face, I am embarrassed to say that it happens.
There were two moments when this reminder hit me so hard today that I had to pause and regroup myself. The first came when I received a visitor. Evans was a little boy we saw last year who was born with a stump for a right leg. With funds left over from last year's mission we were able to arrange for him to be fitted for a prosthetic leg. He and his mom made the journey to Nyamboi to thank us for giving him his life and the mom started to brag about his football skills. An incredible story on many levels, but it was her bragging about her little boy that reminded me that she is no different from any mom who loves to tell of her kids' accomplishments.
The second reminder came to me when I had three very sick kids with malaria who were so scared of my white face. My clinic nurses back at home, Jill and Kelly, snuck some big Paw Patrol stickers in my bag before I left. The moment those three kids saw those smiling animal faces, they were the happiest kids in the world and would let me do anything.
A proud mamma. A child with a sticker. These parents and these kids are no different than yours or mine, except that they were born in Northern Ghana.
Wednesday was rich. It was wonderful. It was challenging. It required every ounce of teamwork we could muster to manage to care for the large numbers of people and the challenges that arose throughout the day both in the village and in the OR. It is humbling work and flexibility and adaptability and teamwork skills must be applied moment to moment.
When we arrived this morning the crowd was under incredible control due to the arrival of our hard-working Ghanaian volunteers, who were on sight as early at 4:00 am. The clinic began immediately and three of our surgical team colleagues -- Dr David, Ted and nurse Mel -- enjoyed their first African village experience. Their help was really needed. I was greeted immediately by Letichia, the village nurse. This dear woman is the only nurse midwife in the community. She is on call 24/7 with no back up. She was absolutely dancing with joy with the health care being delivered in her community. She has been through two of the “Helping Babies Breathe” neonatal resuscitation training programs that we ran with the Leyaata team and is now a master trainer. As she shared stories with me about babies successfully resuscitated, she once again was jumping for joy.
Taking off on Ashley’s “Team Awesome” title, Abraham and our logistics team decided to play a game with all of us today. As they visited each station and asked how they were doing, the first word they said was to become their team name. Giggling away, he announced our new names: Weights and Temps: Team Great; Triage: Team Beautiful, Diagnostics: Team Wonder; Nursing Treatment: Team Busy, Physicians: Team Perfect, Pharmacy: Team Happy Feet (Sherry was doing another happy dance at the time); Dental: Tooth Thieves. Abraham is saving the registration, logistics and eye team for tomorrow!
Team Great! (Weights and Temperature station: Amelia, Rita, Kaitlin, Pastor Emmanuel.)
Dr. Bill had a very sick 5 month-old with malaria and sepsis and worked with the nurses all day to stabilize the child. I have no idea how Joan found a vein in the tiny, dehydrated foot, but life-giving fluids and medicine were running through it. Bill confessed he would not have slept a wink worrying about this baby surviving the night if she went home (that's how much we care for these patients). Although she improved a great deal, we felt she would be best to continue treatment in the local hospital due to her young age. Arrangements were made. Bill shared with me that their plan was to walk to the next village, and get a motorbike to take mom and baby to hospital. Bill noted the injustice that in our shop, an ORNGE ambulance with the Sick Kids team would be landing right now. Instead they will travel 2 hours on a motorbike on a dangerous road as it is getting dark. Nelson Mandela said, “How we walk with the broken speaks louder than how we sit with the great. Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity. It is an act of justice." Bill lived out that quote today.
Our team Pediatrian, Anne, shared about her special patient and special teamwork moment involving a child drifting in and out of unconsciousness from severe malaria and hypoglycaemia. Anne said it was just the most incredible sight to enter our nursing treatment area and have the diagnostic team (led by Tracey), and the nurses on duty in the station (Joan, Kathleen, Nicole, Leslie and Val) descended on the child and in minutes the IV glucose, antimalarials were running. An hour later Anne came back to find the child sitting up drinking and she was ready to go home by the end of the clinic.
Our clinic ended with the Chief of Nyamboi presenting our team with a large pile of yams and a beautiful ram. His parting words were that our delivery of health services to his village was highly beyond their imagination. The ram rode home in the back of the eye team truck (with all of their very valuable equipment). Apparently that didn’t go over too well with our optometrists!
Our ram in the optometry truck.
Our surgical team had a fantastic day full of challenges that were overcome with team work, and our Ghanaian anaesthetist shared how he was left in charge of a case when Perry was called out for an emergency. Eric felt his courage slip as Perry left but quickly realized that “when you are trained by master trainers, you will be ready to overcome." The team had the privilege of operating on one of David Mensah's family members. No pressure!
Dinner was waiting when we returned. I know some family members back home were worried about what their loved ones might be eating in Africa so I thought I’d give you our dinner menu from last night: pumpkin and ginger soup, fresh bread, rice garnished with corn and peas, rice sauce, roast beef with BBQ sauce, salad with fresh vegetables and eggs, yam fritters (made with Lucy’s yams) and fresh watermelon, grapes and pineapple. Needless to say we may not lose any weight in Ghana!
Our special dinner guest tonight was Dr. Mensah himself, and he updated us on some world news and weather reports from home. He gave touching words to us all on behalf of his people, reminding us that many of them have never sat in front of a nurse or a doctor in their lives. He prepped us for Yaara, his village — a village where health is returning due to the consistent efforts of the medical team. Unfortunately a crew of our people missed his speech (Dr. Carlye, Lisa, Bill, Val and Joan) as a medical emergency arrived during dinner time.
We thought our day was finally over but as we walked back to our residence a hysterical mother brought her daughter to the gate who they thought had been bitten by a snake. Thankfully it was “JUST a scorpion bite” and we were able to send her home with some pain medication.
As this day closes, I must say that it is the chief’s final words to us that are ringing in my ears. What occurred today in the village of Nyamboi and in the operating theatres and the eye laser room in Carpenter was highly beyond anything any of us could have asked for or imagined. These words come from one of my favourite Bible verses. For those of you praying for the team, your prayers are being heard.
On to Yaara we go!
by Dr. Jennifer Wilson
The medical team set out at 0630 for the remote village of Nyamboi. The chiefs and elders were waiting to greet us and we quickly moved to the greeting ceremony where the chief’s closing remarks were, “I pray this consistent relationship will endure forever." My Amelia presented a gift to the chief; Elise, our star pharmacy student, presented a football to the village; and our birthday girl presented a gift for the chief’s wife. Renee celebrated her birthday with us and Nyamboi village invited about a thousand people to her party!
Our logistics team had their work cut out for them today as the crowd was very large and loud and pressing in constantly. They have a very tough job.
Our triage team of Sandra, Greg and Les did a great job screening the crowd, deciding who could be treated for minor ailments and sent home, and who needed to be seen by the doctors.Before our nursing station was even set up, the whistle blew. The whistle sounds when there is a major emergency. Every day we have one physician assigned to deal with emergencies and they respond together with Greg, our advanced care paramedic, and one of our nurses. Two unresponsive kids with severe malaria were carried in as Dr. Charlie got to work. Soon thereafter a man having severe angina and heart failure arrived. It was no coincidence that Dr. Charlie is a cardiac specialist. Set up or not, the team was ready. That is one thing I love about this group of people — they are always ready, always prepared for anything.
All team members worked extremely hard in extremely hot and loud conditions today and provided such compassionate and excellent care to a large number of patients. We thank God that all the critical patients turned around in time to go home.
The eye team tells us they had awesome day as all systems were running effectively and the volunteer eye team -- now called “Badama” (Barb, Dan, and Margaret) -- have really caught on to their new roles. Back the compound, Dr. Angela and Marion restored sight to 2 patients with glaucoma and dealt with some eye emergencies.
Our surgical team started their day with an unexpectedly challenging case that required all hands on deck. Dan was so impressed with the teamwork that is necessary when working in our low-resource conditions here. Twenty-three lives were changed in that OR today.
At dinner, each team leader designates someone to report to the group on how their day went. We share about the patients we meet, the challenges we face, and of course there is always a lot of laughter as we hear about things like ... wedding proposals (Sue has had 3!), dental drama (Francois), aches and pains that surgeons didn’t know they had (Dan), and happy dances over simple things like power (Sherry) or frozen Fandago at lunch (all of us).
I am so thankful to God that our team’s health has been wonderful. The only exception is that latrine phobia has kicked in. It is real and is it quite common to hear team members wishing each other luck as they pass one another on the latrine path. Dr. Carlye, our team doc, kindly ran a constipation clinic after dinner and it was appreciated by many. Our gazebo is now buzzing with excitement as Esther the local seamstress is selling her cloth for the outfit she will make for many of us.
Well, 0545 is coming very quickly and it is time to rest. As they say in Ghana, may God grant us tomorrow.
Much love to everyone back home — we appreciate your support and comments that feel like a little lifeline to home.
by Dr. Jennifer Wilson
Every morning, the entire staff of NEA gather together under their big gazebo to pray for one another and pray for the day ahead before they begin their work. We were all invited to join them this morning. After a time of singing, an elderly woman named Lucy from Carpenter village walked slowly to the centre of our gathering and thanked our team for the kindness that had been extended to her people over the past 10 years. She told us she was a poor woman but she needed to return the kindness so she worked and planned all year in able provide us with a gift from her farm. Her gift was a bowl of 10 very large yams and 9 guinea fowl — a gift we might expect from a village — not one woman. The significance of the value of this gift was not lost on any of us.
David Mensah shared a passionate message from the book of John in the Bible. He told us the story of Jesus healing a man who had been ill for over 30 years at the pool of Bethesda. None of the disciples wanted to go to that place of suffering except for John. He explained that to his people, we have become a pool of Bethesda — a house of mercy, hands of healing. He then gave examples of patients he has met with in recents months. A man whose daughters would have been orphans if not for the emergency surgery performed by Magdi’s hands of healing; a woman who can now thread her needle to make income from sewing thanks to the “tall man” (that’s Martin McDowell, our lead optometrist); a man who can now “crack bones with his teeth” due to Kyle’s hands of healing; a child saved by the IV placed by nurse Joan’s healing hands years ago. The examples kept coming as David walked around the gazebo … Charlie’s healing hands, the pharmacists' healing hands, the nurses' healing hands. You could have heard a pin drop in that gazebo.
After omelettes, porridge, fruit, beans and Tim Horton’s coffee, all of the newcomers went on a 30 minute tour of the NEA compound with David.
Two hours later, that group came back stunned and amazed and so excited about at what they had just witnessed. NEA’s integrated development projects -- from fish to rabbits to peanuts to ostriches -- left them speechless. Caitlin, who is studying international development in university, said that everything she has been learning just came to life. Whilst (love hanging with UK friends) the tour was going on, Kim worked with our local hosts to train the translators and volunteers who will be collecting our registration and important stats for the Leyaata program.
After lunch the surgeries began and by dinner, 20 surgeries were successfully and safely treated. I popped my head into the Brenda theatre mid afternoon to hear Ashley’s voice announce “Welcome to Theatre Awesome!” Awesome it was with the glowing faces and healing hands of Emilia, David, Dan and Ashley cheerfully going about their work. Our young Canadian nurse Emilia was definitely keeping those three British chaps in line! All of them were wearing brand new scrub hats donated to the team by Esther, a local seamstress.
While surgeries were being performed an amazing sea of white shirts provided care to the NEA staff and their families as the medical, dental and eye teams kicked into action along with their translators and volunteers. I couldn’t believe how smoothly it went for a first clinic — especially with half of our team being there for the first time. Despite a few hiccups, such as losing power to our automated pharmacy, problems were identified and fixed with great speed.
After another awesome dinner, awesome stories of the day were exchanged by our awesome team leaders while Eric, our Ghanaian anaesthetist, told me he could write a book on all he learned in one day from Dr. Perry. We love our Ghanaian colleagues and are thrilled that a new Ghanaian physician graduate, Dr. David, and a new nursing graduate, Rita, will also with working with us for these 2 weeks.
We all headed off to bed leaving Dr. Toylin, our ophthalmologist in deep conversation with Abraham and Soale, our local leaders, about a life-threatening case involving a young woman with a very large tumor behind her eye. We need great wisdom to discern the next steps to help her in her great suffering.
The surgical team headed back to their residence for a team debrief and the medical team unwound under our gazebo with a good dose of journalling, puzzling, colouring, very competitive banagramming and playing some euchre. My daughter Amelia was amused by how health professionals choose to unwind.
Off to a village tomorrow — our day begins at 0545!
By Dr. Jennifer Wilson
After a few short hours of sleep, our journey to Carpenter continued Sundaymorning on domestic flights to Kumasi, followed by a rather toasty coach ride to Carpenter. Kim kept trying to communicate how hot the bus was, hoping for a bit more A/C, only to have the driver advise her “Ma'am ... it is because of the weather." Point taken.
Apparently overbooked flights are a problem in Ghana, too, and so with hugs and high fives while shoving Cedis in their pockets, we left behind Dave our assistant logistics lead (sorry Heather) and Greg, our advanced care paramedic (who by the way had been travelling from Fort McMurray since Thursday) to figure out a plan B. Resilience is one of our team values, don’t you know!
So 66 minus 2 of us rolled into the compound of NEA around 2 pm to be greeted by our dear friends, brothers and sisters and of course the children at NEA. The circle we formed as we held hands and sang a Ghanaian song of thanksgiving to God was just such a massive circle. I was perhaps a tad emotional remembering it was exactly 10 years ago that my feet hit Carpenter soil and this beautiful partnership began. After an exchange of greetings, hugs and introductions in the 35 plus degree heat, we enjoyed mushroom soup from Frank’s mushroom farm and fresh bread from Kate’s bakery, and then we got to work.
The next 3 hours was a sight to behold as 200 hockey bags and cartons were unpacked. By 7 pm the training room was transformed into a massive pharmacy, medical, dental and nursing station as well as a logistics home base. Our eye team was so far ahead of schedule they bragged they were prepping for Wednesday’s clinic. And our surgical team ... oh my. By 7 pm our first 15 hernia patients had been screened and prepped for Monday’s surgeries and those 60 boxes of equipment suddenly became 2 operating theatres and a recovery ward.
The best part about 7 pm was that Dave and Greg rolled in to a standing ovation after a nice air conditioned VIP coach ride to Kumasi where NEA staff liased with them. We were particularly happy to see them as we had all decided to go on a hunger strike (after lunch, of course) pending their arrival. A wonderful spaghetti dinner was had by all as eyelids began falling at a rapid rate.
Our first patients couldn’t wait until we were open for business, as two of the children booked for hernias were sick with malaria. Dr. Anne, our team Pediatrician, Dr. Lisa, and nurse Kathleen, who are all first time team members, jumped to action and the kids were cared for and treated by torch light under the surgical tree and the watchful mentorship eye of our veteran Dr. Sue. The kids will have their surgeries on Friday.
As Dr. Rob said to me, “It has been a sterling start to our fortnight." What a choice of words. My favourite words today came from my dear friend Magdi ... “I’m just so happy."
What a day it has been as we begin our service to this incredible organization at NEA and as we lend a hand to our local Ghanaian health care colleagues who continue to leave their posts and journey towards our team headquarters.
My husband always teases me that I’m supposed to be writing blogs ... not books, but it is as if a week’s worth of stories happens in one day here.
Load of love back home to our friends and families. Your blog comments are coming through and being read to the entire group at meal times and they make us laugh and cry because we miss you all!
By Rev. Don Beyers, Assistant Curate
We continued our lenten study series of our Anglican-Christian faith last week with a look at the “sources” of our theology. We also explored what it means to be baptized. Although the two topics may seem unrelated, I suggest otherwise.
Baptism, we learned, is one of the two great sacraments of the Church, the other being Eucharist. It is the sacrament by which we are purified of sin and born into new life, the life of grace.
While many life-long Anglicans understand Baptism as such, there is another dimension of Baptism that is often overlooked. By virtue of Baptism, we are called to a new vocation, to be Christ to all God’s people.
Immediately following our immersion into the baptismal waters, we are anointed with Chrism Oil. That anointing evokes our new vocation to be Christ to others. Jesus, as we know, was the anointed Son of God, thus he is called Christ, from the Greek word meaning “anointed.” By our birth into new life and into the Body of Christ, the Church, we participate in Jesus’ ministry and are anointed as well.
The challenge for Christians, therefore, is to understand how we are to live our new vocation. To learn our new vocation, we need to turn to the “sources” of our faith for deeper understanding. Those sources are Scripture, tradition, and reason.
Scripture, of course, is the ultimate and definitive source of all things necessary for our salvation. Although Anglicans generally do not read the scriptures literally, we understand the writers of the Word of God were inspired by God to write those things which are essential for eternal life. Scripture forms the foundation, the ground of all our belief. We turn first to the Word of God for our discernment and it is the Word of God by which we measure all things.
While the Christian Church recognized much of the Bible as we have it today by the third century, questions remained about the meaning of those scriptural texts. For example, the early Christians struggled to better understand how Jesus was both God and man. As successors to the Apostles, the early bishops recognized their duty to faithfully pass on the teachings they received. Therefore the bishops met in large councils known as ecumenical councils to define the core beliefs of the Christian Church. The result of those councils were the creeds which we continue to pray each Sunday.
The teachings of the councils and the creeds form what we call tradition. When we talk about tradition, we are not talking about customs we pass down from generation to generation, but rather the teachings of the apostolic tradition. To be clear, tradition does not introduce anything new, but articulates more fully and clearly the scriptures.
Although there is a general agreement about what belongs to tradition, there remains a wide-range of opinion on various teachings. Remember, we Anglicans do not have a definitive, magisterial teaching like that of other churches. Rather, we have a spectrum of belief and expression of our teachings.
To help us navigate and discern the sometimes muddled waters of our teaching, our Church also turns to reason as a source of theology. Reason discerns the meaning of the scriptures and tradition within the context of our times. Its purpose is to help us understand more fully and deeply what God is saying to us through the scriptures.
New insights, such as those from biblical studies, often help us to better understand the meaning of a particular passage. We recognize the scriptures were written within a particular historical and cultural context. Therefore we do not rigidly hold to all teachings of the Bible. For example, we do not continue many of the laws found in the Book of Leviticus simply because we acknowledge those laws to be rooted within a particular time. Other biblical teachings, such as those regarding the role of women in the life of the Church, have been understood anew.
Admittedly, all of this can be rather tricky to navigate. However, we have to remember Jesus is the source and author of our faith and salvation. We must turn to him in prayer at all times, even when we are in the fiercest of theological debates. Our discernment of what God is calling us to do within our particular time and place must be done in prayer.
This is why it is so important for us to pray the Word of God daily. A wonderful guide for praying God’s Word is the Book of Common Prayer. When we pray the Daily Office, we allow the scriptures to fill our hearts and minds and guide us each day. (Many of us gather during the week for morning prayer to pray the Daily Office as found in the Book of Common Prayer.)
We can also pray God’s Word by simply reflecting for a period of timeeach day on a short passage from the Bible. A good example of this is the practice of lectio divina, or sacred reading. That practice encourage us to pray a text several times and note what words and images touch our hearts.
Whatever your chosen practice of reading the Bible may be, it is essential that we pray and study the scriptures daily, study our tradition’s rich heritage, and discern God’s call for us today. When we do, we will learn to live our baptismal vocation.
By Rev. Don Beyers, Assistant Curate
As many of you know, we began this week our Lenten study series, Anglican 101. We had a great turnout at both our Tuesday and Wednesday sessions. While many attended, some were not able to join us for various reasons. All are welcome to our next session, offered again next week on Tuesday at 10:00 a.m. and Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. Each week I will post an overview of our discussion to help you share more fully in our time together.
Henry VIII: Founder of the Anglican Church?
We launched our series with an overview of our denomination’s history. I began our discussion this week with a question: when did the Anglican Church begin? As I suspected, each group identified Henry VIII’s break with the Church of Rome as the beginning of the church. The response didn’t surprise me.
Popularly speaking, most of us locate our church’s beginnings with Henry’s defiance of Rome. Henry, we learn in our history lessons, wanted to annul his marriage with Catherine of Aragon but the pope refused, leaving Henry with no choice but to establish himself as head of the Church in England. Unfortunately, this is a rather simplistic overview of our church’s beginnings.
The Early History of Christianity in the British Isles
The seeds that gave birth to an independent English church were planted long before Henry. One could almost argue they were sown at the very dawn of Christianity to the British Isles. Evidence suggests that Christianity first developed in the region in the late fourth century. Unlike other missions, the Christian communities that dotted the isles were centred around monasteries and not cathedrals. Furthermore, Christianity was shaped and formed by Celtic influences.
Thus the Christianity of the British Isles took on a distinctive form and shape than the Christianity of continental Europe. Easter, for example, was celebrated on a different date than what was customary in Rome.
St. Augustine of Canterbury
By the end of the sixth century, Irish missionaries were traveling across the isles and continental Europe on missionary expeditions. Yet Christianity had yet to take root in other regions of the isles, namely the English south. As such, Pope Gregory the Great commissioned a Benedictine monk by the name of Augustine to travel to the isles to convert the remaining pagans and bring the churches into conformity with Roman practice and custom.
The Early Seeds of English Reformation
According to Venerable Bede, one of the earliest historians of the English peoples and of the English church, Augustine’s efforts to align Christians with Roman practice were not always well received. It would be many decades before Christians would celebrate Easter according to Roman practice. Often the implementation of the date of Easter was imposed on peoples by force by kings and military might. The earliest seeds of the English Reformation were planted in this period, with the very resistance to Roman influence over the life of the English church.
As the English kings grew in power and might and slowly took control of larger parts of the British Isles, they questioned the power of the Church. The Church was a mighty force throughout Europe and in England. Monasteries attained great wealth and bishops often inherited greater wealth than many nobles. Kings were threatened by the influence of the bishops, particularly the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The well-know story of St. Thomas Becket illustrates the conflict between the Church and the kings of England. Originally a close ally of King Henry II, Thomas served as the king’s chancellor until his election and consecration as the Archbishop of Canterbury. Despite Henry’s hopes that Thomas would subject the Church to the king’s might, Thomas instead defended the rights and privileges of the Church. Given the Church’s tremendous temporal and religious power, Thomas’ actions proved too much for the king. In the end, Henry II ordered the death of Thomas. Thomas was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral.
Although scholars contend many of the details of Thomas’ martyrdom, his death reminds us that well before Henry VIII, English kings were determined to exercise supreme control of the Church within their realm. And the English kings were not alone in their quest for authority over the Church. Other kings exercised varying degrees of authority over the Church, often appointing bishops to major dioceses.
The conditions for the English Reformation were just about set by the end of the 15th century. In addition to the distinctive character and diversity of Christianity throughout the British Isles and the monarchy’s desire for control of the Church, early reform movements revealed a growing desire to renew people’s faith life.
John Wycliffe was one of the earliest of English reformers. He firmly believed the Bible to be the source of all Christian teaching. He challenged the importance of popes and monasteries in the life of the Church. Although Wycliffe died of a stroke, a later Church council declared him a heretic and had his remains removed from consecrated ground and burned.
Church in Turmoil
Despite attempts to quell any reform movement, many felt it was time for the Church to return to the Gospel. Tragically, few bishops listened. Scandals plagued the Church, with priests, bishops, and even popes abusing their authority and committing great abuses. Many clergy lacked fundamental education and often were incapable of ministering to their people.
Martin’s Luther’s Reformation
Matters turned for the worse in the early sixteenth century. Certain friars took advantage of the practice of indulgences.
At that time Christians believed in purgatory, a place where one would go after death if a person wasn’t completely purified of sin. Although assured of the promise of heaven, many Christians believed those in purgatory suffered tremendous punishments for great lengths of time. Many hoped to minimize their time in purgatory, if not altogether avoid going there.
To help Christians avoid purgatory or any punishment for their sins, popes would grant an indulgence, or remission of punishment, if a person performed certain penitential acts and went to confession. Some clergy took advantage of people’s fear of purgatory and hell. Instead, they proposed a person could buy an indulgence. People soon turned to buying indulgences for their hope of salvation.
A young German monk by the name of Martin Luther learned of the selling of indulgences and renounced the practice. Luther argued we could do nothing to achieve our salvation. Instead, Christ has won for us our salvation by his death and resurrection. A Christian simply needs to have faith in Christ and trust in his promises.
Despite Church leaders’ attempts to stop Luther, Luther’s message quickly spread throughout Europe. To his great fortune, Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press made it possible for pamphlets and books to be quickly printed and disseminated. Luther’s reform quickly launched and he won many to his cause.
Henry, the Defender of the Faith
Luther’s reforms, however, were met with strong opposition back in England. There a young and ambitious king by the name of Henry VIII was assuming great power. While evidence suggests he was a man of great faith and learning, Henry likely feared the political instability caused by the German Reformation.
Henry wrote a defence of the sacraments and the ministry of the popes. Pope Leo X, the Bishop of Rome at the time, rewarded Henry for his work and granted him the title, Defender of the Faith, a title that Queen Elizabeth II continues to hold to our own day.
The Break from Rome
Within a short time, however, Henry VIII found himself embroiled in controversy. His marriage to Catherine of Aragon was in turmoil. Henry believed his wife was incapable of bearing him a male heir. This not only endangered his lineage but also the relative peace of the kingdom. Were he to die without a male heir, his successor could be contested.
Henry sought to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon. He appealed to Pope Clement VII but was not granted an annulment. In part because the pope had granted permission for Henry to marry Catherine in the first place and the pope further feared political turmoil with European kingdoms aligned with Catherine.
Unbeknownst to the pope, Henry appointed Ann Boleyn’s confidant, Thomas Cranmer, as the Archbishop of Canterbury. The pope confirmed the appointment only to later learn that Cranmer defended the annulment of Henry’s marriage to Catherine. Soon Henry declared himself the head of the Church of England; in turn, the pope excommunicated Henry, the once renowned Defender of the Faith.
The English Reformation
Despite Henry’s new role as the head of the Church of England, there were few drastic changes in the life of most Christians. Certain parts of public worship were translated into English and certain “Catholic” practices abolished. Some reformers were critical of Henry and Cranmer for not doing more. Henry remained thoroughly Catholic to the end. He did, however, abolish monasteries and assumed the monasteries’ property as his own.
Following Henry’s death, the English reformers, under the leadership of Thomas Cranmer, quickly went to work in reforming the English Church. Yet many reformers remained less than satisfied with Cranmer’s reforms. Still others believed Cranmer had gone too far.
Although Cranmer embraced many reforms, such as the reading of scripture and abolishment of clerical celibacy, he continued certain Catholic practices. For example, his first edition of the Book of Common Prayer in 1549 still named the celebration of Eucharist as the service of Holy Communion, commonly called the Mass. Later editions abolished the term Mass and simply refer to the liturgy as the Lord’s Supper. In many places, clergy continued to wear vestments, despite the desire of reformers for more simple attire, often consisting of a black cassock, white surplice and preaching scarf.
Catholic or Reformed?
A question the English reformers faced by the middle of the 1500s was whether the English church was Catholic or Reformed. A word of clarification is helpful here. The English church still understood itself to be catholic, in the sense that it remained a part of the Church of Christ. And as we continue to profess today in the Creed each Sunday, we believe that the Church is “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.”
The Church is one for we are united in one Lord, one Body, the Body of Christ. The Church is holy because Christ is holy. And the Church is catholic, because its mission is broad, universal, and far-reaching. Finally, the Church is apostolic, as it continues to proclaim Christ’s teaching as handed down to us by the Apostles.
However, the word catholic carried another meaning for the Reformers. It was a term used to describe external appearances, teachings, and practices as one would find in the Church of Rome. Incense, vestments, and statues were all perceived to be catholic customs. Reformers opposed such practices as they considered them to be non-biblical.
Furthermore, any teaching considered Roman was considered suspect, if not wrong, such as belief in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Many Reformers insisted the Eucharist to be a memorial, whereas those on the more “catholic” side maintained an understanding of the Eucharist as the real presence of Christ.
For centuries the Church of England would be torn between those on either side of the catholic and reformed debate. At times, the conflict between the two positions would be violent and deadly.
Interesting enough, the Church of England, unlike its fellow Catholic and Lutheran churches, did not establish a formal catechism or definitive church teaching. Instead, the foundations of the church’s teachings were the Bible, the apostolic creeds, and the Book of Common Prayer, which included the 39 Articles affirming the same.
In a way, the church’s lack of a clearly defined authoritative teaching has been both a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that the church allows for a wide range of theological opinion. A curse in that a lack of clear teaching has led to some division in the Anglican Communion today. The challenge for the Anglican Communion today is to hold a prayerful unity and respect for dialogue among those of differing opinion.
Fortunately, another position has been proposed over time, otherwise known as the via mediaor middle way. That position argues the Anglican Church to be both catholic and reformed. Although, as we shall discover next week, there are critics of even this position.
The issues that gave rise to the Church of England continue to challenge the Church today. Can the Church welcome diversity of theological opinion, discipline, and practice and still remain united as one? Who, or what, serves as the ultimate authority in interpreting the Bible and guidance of the Church? The Archbishop of Canterbury? The primates of the national churches? Bishops of local dioceses? These are the questions facing the Anglican Communion today. Interesting enough, they are also the very issues facing many other Christian churches, such as the Roman, Lutheran, and United churches.
Sermon for the First Sunday of Lent 2017
Rev. Don Beyers, Assistant Curate
Well, my friends, the season of spring is upon us. But not the spring you imagine. Certainly the weather outside makes that clear. No, I speak of another spring: the springtime of faith, the season of Lent. A season for spiritual renewal, a time for pruning the weeds that strap our soul, a time to clean the cobwebs that cloud our vision of the Good, the True, and the Beautiful.
Our season of Lent has its origins in the early Church when persons preparing for Baptism at Easter would be instructed in the faith and made ready for the great Easter feast. Through study, prayer, and penitential acts, the candidates would renounce their former ways so as to embrace the way of Christ. Over time, the preparation for Easter included all members and involved acts of penance.
Among those penitential acts was the practice of confession, a custom we continue to offer in our own time. Unlike our modern practice, Christians in the early Church made their confession publicly before the whole assembly of the church. They rightly understood that sin not only damaged our relationship with God, but with each other, the entire Body of Christ. It seems, however, that the public confession of sins loss its popularity — I wonder why — and took on a new form, that of individual confession with a priest.
Today, I am going to briefly return to that ancient practice. Fortunately for you, I am not going to call any of you forward to make your confession of sins before the congregation, but rather make a confession of a sin of which I am guilty: I depend too much on myself and don’t always trust God. While some of you might have hoped for a more provocative confession, you will be sorely disappointed. But hear me out for a moment.
Although my sin may seem mundane to you, it is one that I am profoundly aware of its dangers. If left unchecked, the deception that I can rely on myself can lead me to commit a greater sin, the sin of pride — the very sin that has brought humanity to its knees and left countless generations wounded. It is the sin of which the authors of the Book of Genesis were profoundly aware of its deadly venom. Thus their tale of the archetypal humans’ fall from grace, Adam and Eve. While not meant to be an account of a historical act, the temptation in the Garden of Eden painfully reminds us of our weakness, the fundamental brokenness that we experience and from which we can only be redeemed by God’s grace.
My often lack of trust in God manifests itself in subtle ways. At times, it is expressed in my anxiety about the future and my erroneous belief that somehow I can control what is to come, only to discover God’s plans are often greater than mine. Other times, I find myself filled with worry about even the smallest of things and I forget to entrust to God those matters for which I need his care. I can be easily deceived into thinking that I have all I need to accomplish all things. I often find that as soon as I fall into that trap, God makes a point of reminding me that there is nothing I can do, but simply entrust matters to his care.
I wonder, how often do we deceive ourselves into thinking we are more than what we are, much as Adam and Eve do in the story of Genesis. There we read that Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge believing that they would be like God and truly wise.
How often do we judge others as we believe God would judge them and condemn them for their acts? How often do we deceive ourselves into believing we know all things when words of gossip pass from our lips and shatter others’ lives? How often do we try to control others, stubbornly believing we will get our way if only we try? When we judge others, condemn others with our words, and control others, we fall trap to the very sin of Adam and Eve and trust in ourselves and not in God.
These are the very weeds that we must prune from our souls and minds this Lent, this springtime of faith. Rather than partake of the fruit of the tree, we are called to embrace Christ and follow his way.
Unlike Adam and Eve, Jesus does not partake of the fruit of the tree, but bears the weight of the wood of the tree of life, the cross of our salvation. Rather than exalt himself, Jesus humbles himself and gives his life for the life of the world.
We read of Christ’s humility and total trust in his Father in our Gospel today. I have long wondered why Jesus was tempted. The more I consider it, the more I realise Jesus had to experience what you and I experience each day so that he could reverse the sin of Adam and Eve, transform it, and redeem and save what was lost once so long ago.
Rather than depend on himself — as we are so often prone to do — Jesus gives himself entirely to his Father. Certainly Jesus could have changed rocks into bread, commanded his angels to save him from death, and declared himself king of all nations. Yet he does none of those things. Instead, he trusts his Father. As St. Paul says in our second reading from Romans, Jesus’ obedience to his Father’s will makes us righteous.
We must be likewise obedient to our heavenly Father. Our pruning hook is obedience, it is the tool by which we shall tear up the weeds of sin that weigh our soul down and prohibit us from flourishing in this springtime of faith. That is our task this Lent!
For many of us, the word obedience conjures up negative feelings and thoughts. We think of obedience as limiting our freedom. Yet obedience is nothing like that. Rather, as the Latin root of the word reveals, it means to listen and hearken. When we are obedient to God, we listen to God, and follow God’s will for us.
When we hearken to God’s call for us to be holy people, a priestly people, a people who live as he calls us to live, we discover a freedom beyond our imagination. We become what we are meant to be.
I am frequently reminded of this in my own life. When I abide by God’s command and live as he calls me to live, I experience a profound happiness. And God’s command is simple: love him with our whole heart, mind, and soul, and love our neighbours as ourselves.
It is when I deceive myself into thinking that I have all the answers, know all things, and act as such that I am most miserable. When we sin, a great weight is placed upon us. A burden far greater than what we can handle on our own. But when we renounce the way of darkness and turn to Christ and seek his grace, we experience true joy and freedom. God wants us to flourish.
God wants us to live in joy and happiness, love and peace. To get there, we need but be obedient to him, listen to him, to know our way.
How do we listen? By now, many of you might notice I place a tremendous emphasis on the importance of prayer in our life. I am a firm believer that it is by prayer, both personal and public, that we come to know God and the way we are to go in life. How do we expect to hear God if we do not set aside time each day to listen? Prayer is just that: placing ourselves before God, entrusting to God all our fears and anxieties, and inviting God to transform them by his grace.
To be clear, God may not answer our prayers as quickly as we may wish or even in the ways we want. That is not the point of prayer. Rather, we pray so as to invite God into our lives, into our suffering, our fears, our joys, hopes, and sorrows. With time, we will learn from God the way we are to go. Trust me, I wouldn’t be here were it not for long and dark nights of prayer over many years.
We listen as well when we read the scriptures and hear God’s Word spoken. Christ makes this clear in our Gospel today. Notice how he responds to each temptation with a quote from the scriptures. When we study the scriptures, we allow the Word to become our very breath, the life of our spirit.
Finally, we listen to God when we attend to God’s broken-hearted. When we give of ourselves to others, when we love our brothers and sisters, friends and strangers, we attend to God. We find the culmination of this on Maundy Thursday, at the very beginning of our Easter celebrations, when we kneel down before each other and wash each other’s feet and heed Christ’s command “to love one another as I have loved you.”
Therefore, my friends, our springtime of faith, our season of Lent, is a time for us obey God, to listen to his ways and place our trust and hope in him. Thus we make our lenten journey, our spring cleaning, through prayer, study of scriptures, and service of each other. How will you make your lenten journey?
Rev. Don Beyers, Assistant Curate
When we think of Baptism, we immediately think of water. Yet there is another, equally important symbol in the baptismal rite: chrism oil. After a person is immersed in the waters, oil is poured over their head or marked on their forehead.
The anointing is a deeply symbolic gesture. Born into new life through the waters of Baptism, we are marked as Christ’s own. Not only are we marked as sons and daughters of the God who loves us, we become like him who saved us: Jesus. That one small gesture radically reminds us of our new vocation to be Christ to the world.
A little background might help us understand this more fully. In biblical times, kings were anointed as a sign of their new mission to be leaders of God’s people and to ensure God’s kingdom, Israel. Over time, the kingly vocation took on new meaning as Israel’s existence was threatened by foreign conquest. The people began to long for a king who would liberate Israel and make of it a great nation as promised by God. This king would be in the line of David and would be the anointed one of God, otherwise known as the Messiah, a word meaning anointed one.
When Jesus began his ministry, people began to look to him as the Messiah, the liberator of God’s people. As such, his early disciples and Christian communities began to call him the Messiah, for in him they encountered God’s saving and liberating grace. Jesus was the anointed one of God. In Greek, the title messiah is translated as Christos, or anointed one. Thus we call Jesus, the Christ.
Although the gospels and other books of the New Testament attest to Jesus’ complete and total redemption of humanity by his death and resurrection, the early Christian community listened and adhered to Jesus’ command to proclaim, through word and deed, his saving grace to the whole world. The Church, the Body of Christ, became the living presence of Jesus in the world and continues to proclaim through works of justice and peace his saving grace.
Baptism, therefore, became the sacrament by which we are born into new life and into the Body of Christ, the Church. Each and every member of that body has a vocation to be Christ to the world. Symbolizing and manifesting that vocation, we anoint the newly baptized and command them to proclaim the Good News of God in Christ.
But how do we do that?
To understand our vocation to be Christ to the world, we turn to the gospels and see how Jesus lived and acted among God’s people. Today’s reading from the Gospel of John offers a profound insight into what our life and ministry ought to be if we are to be Jesus. We, like Jesus, are called to transcend all boundaries and seek relationships with all God’s people.
The story of Jesus’ visit with the Samaritan woman at the well is perhaps one of the most remarkable stories of all the gospels. It stands in striking contrast to the story of Nicodemus we heard proclaimed last week, the story which Fr. Jason spoke about. And if we pay close attention to this story, it ought to challenge us as it did the Jews who heard it proclaimed so long ago.
Unfortunately, however, we romanticize the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. In truth, however, the story is rather scandalous. It is a story of Jesus fundamentally violating the religious laws of his time. First of all, he sits with a woman. A single man never did that. Moreover, he sits with a Samaritan woman, a person from a much-despised ethnic group. Samaritans were once members of the Jewish people and were accused of not maintaining complete fidelity to God’s law because they intermarried with the people who once occupied the promised land. Finally, Jesus sits and talks with a woman who seems to have a questionable past.
Despite all that, Jesus remains with the woman and talks with her. He forms a relationship with her. He asks her questions about her life and story. Although the woman is hesitant and uneasy about Jesus’ behaviour and questions, she remains with him, astounded by his knowledge of her, and his courage to defy the cherished laws of his day.
Remarkably, the conversation Jesus has with the Samaritan woman is the longest recorded conversation in the entire Gospel of John. No other figure has such a long dialogue with Jesus. It is also the first time Jesus reveals himself as the Messiah, the Christ. Jesus’ attentiveness and care for the woman inspires her to go and tell others in her community about Jesus. The Samaritan woman becomes the first evangelist.
Imagine the shock experienced by Jesus’ disciples who come along and find Jesus speaking with the Samaritan woman. Jesus talks with a woman! A woman known for her questionable life! And he choses to reveal himself to her and inspires her to proclaim the good news! The early hearers of this gospel story would have been deeply troubled. So, too, should we. Particularly as this account closely follows the story of Nicodemus, a highly-regarded teacher of the faith who was unable to understand Jesus’ teachings and know him. Jesus didn’t reveal himself to him, but rather to a woman.
If we are to be Christ to others, we must live and act as Jesus did so long ago. We have to listen carefully to this gospel story and ponder it deep in our hearts. Jesus’ words and actions challenge us to go well beyond our comfort zones, well beyond the borders and divisions we make, to proclaim the good news of our salvation. We must sit with all God’s people and form relationship with them.
To be sure, this is a difficult thing to do. I don’t know about you, but I sometimes find it difficult to relate to certain people. It’s much more comfortable for me to form relationships with those with whom I agree or identify. But God calls me not to comfort, but to go where I am most challenged and love all God’s people. I am called to proclaim the good news of God’s salvation to everyone, not just the righteous few. And so are you. Remember, you were baptized and called to the same vocation I was: to be Christ to all God’s people.
This is particularly true today, at a time when so many walls and divisions are being made between different peoples. Around our world whole groups of people are being forced out of their homes because of their religious, racial and ethnic identity, and social class. We are creating divisions within our own communities, between the right and left, black and white, rich and poor. Even within our churches there is division, either because of long-held hurts or deeply-held opinions.
In Christ, however, there is no division. We are neither Anglican or Catholic, Canadian or American, conservative or liberal in Christ. Jesus came not for some and not for others, but for all. In Christ, we are all sons and daughters of the God who loved us.
As Christians, as persons anointed to be Christ in the world, we are called to rise above our differences and come together in prayer as one. Although we may not always agree with one another on all matters, we should never let our differences cause divisions. Rather, like Jesus, we should seek to form relationship, to listen and talk with all God’s people.
This is why we gather around this table and unite ourselves as one in Christ. The sign of peace we shall soon share with each other is not just another ordinary pleasantry, but an expression of our desire to be as one. Only then can we stand and offer our great sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving to God. Only then can we partake of the one bread, one cup, and be nourished and fed by Christ himself.
My friends, will you join with me and be Christ to all God’s people? Will you show gracious hospitality and welcome all to the table? We may be amazed if we do. We might just inspire another person to go out, like that Samaritan woman so long ago, and tell others about the love of God encountered in our midst.