Tuesday, July 16, 2013

First world problems in the third world

My sister introduced me to the term "first world problem."

I've been gnawing on this concept all day.

We live in the "third world" or whatever the politically correct term is these days... I call it "low-resource setting."

But we still have what I would classify as first world problems.

I have to make my own cheese to make lasagna.  'sigh'  (I have figured out how to make amazing lasagna here AND I have an oven!!)

60% of the time, there's no running water from my kitchen tap so I have to do dishes from a tap that comes from our water tank.  'sigh' (I still have running water 80% of the year!!)

I can't do laundry when the power is out (because I have a washing machine!!).  'sigh'

But, additionally, our community has "NGO-world problems." It's really the same concept.  But created by the presence of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) who have given hand-outs for a decade  (or longer) due to war and crisis in the region.

You're sponsoring my child to go to school, but I want my child to go to the most expensive school in the region.

You gave me a cow last year, where's my cow this year?

The home that you built me two years ago now has a leaky roof.

I don't mean this as a criticism of individuals but more of a real-life reflection on the worlds that we create for ourselves and the problems we then have to live with.

If we cater to our children, shelter our children, or have extraordinary standards for how we feed, clothe, educate, and amuse our children - they end up with first world problems.  Is it wrong to do any of those things? Not inherently.  But we have to know that we're going to have to live with and deal with the first world problems that we have created.

If we give hand-outs, clothe other people's children for them, feed them without requiring any participation or contribution - they end up with "NGO-world problems." Is it wrong to care for the poor and those in crisis like that? Not inherently.  But we have to know that we're going to have to live with and deal with the NGO-world problems that we have created.

There is discussion now about how to curb the first world problems facing our generation and our generation's children.  There is also discussion now about how to curb what I am calling "NGO-world problems."

For more reading on this topic, read "When Helping Hurts." It's a MUST READ for anyone going on a mission's trip OR living in the real world.  Please don't take it to the extreme.  The Bible commands us to care for the poor, the widows, the orphans.  We ARE to be God's hands and feet to a hurting world.  But let's be thoughtful and intentional!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Missionary mom of special needs

"Mama, when Gracie's in heaven, she won't need a wheelchair anymore, right? And she'll be able to talk to me, right?" (5 year old Ana, this week)

Our Gracie is our first-born child.  We've been a family for nearly 7 years now.  We couldn't imagine life without her.  God has used her to shape us in so many ways.  

But being on the mission field with a growing nonverbal daughter with spastic quadriplegia cerebral palsy, epilepsy, significant development delays, GERD, constipation, and a swallow disorder is not always easy.  God had it all planned out, though.  He directed me to medical school so that Gracie could have her own personal doctor!

(She LOVES her HOL friends and is very popular!)

Our daily challenges with her include:

- No special education so she's homeschooled.  She much prefers that someone BESIDES Mama teach her, so this summer I hired a dear friend who is in university for education.  I've trained her to be Gracie's one-on-one tutor (and do some stretches with her too!).

- Limited therapies available in this region - and, to be honest, I know a lot more than many of the local therapists because I had the opportunity to study rehab medicine under top experts and amazing therapists in a very HIGH resource region of the world.

- No specialized medical supplies available here - youth diapers (yes, she's now a youth size!!), thickener for her liquids, durable medical supplies.  God has been so gracious and we have not run out of thickener yet! I also have found various supplies from various sources and an amazing lady sewed Gracie dozens of cloth diapers before we moved to Africa.  But, that doesn't mean that I'm not always calculating, in the back of my mind, how many more days of thickener I have until we run out.  When she's having a good day, I'll challenge her with sips of un-thickened milk.

- She's STILL nonverbal and struggles to communicate.  We backed up back to picture exchange and she seems to be doing very well with that.  Her IPad skills are still too inconsistent for communication - but we keep trying! We're so blessed that Gracie's "team" in the USA still stays in contact with us and even sends us stuff to help her along! But on days like today... it's difficult.  She fussed all night until I finally took off her AFO's (ankle foot orthotics) and gave her tylenol and laid with her for hours.  Today I examined her more carefully in the daylight and (honestly, much to my relief) it seems that one foot is painful to her.  But she can't communicate pain or location of pain - which is so challenging and painful to Mama!

- No regular check-ups.  I have to be her doctor.  I don't get to sit back and be Mama and let other doctors advise me on my children's health.  I'm painfully aware that her hips are slowly dislocating and will likely require surgery.  But I can't rely on regular ortho appointments to monitor them for me.  It's just something that nags at me and even torments me on a bad day. There's no easy way to monitor her health.  There's no way to check a depakote level, so I just have to watch her for any signs of bone marrow suppression and keep track of her seizures.  I did get a complete blood count done last year and I'll probably do this same in December again.

- No easy way to get around.  This child is getting BIG! Getting her in and out of our car is near to impossible for me.  (We're buying a different van with sliding doors on both sides, needless to say!) I am able to push her around villages in her Convaid (thank you, Ebay!).  But I can't really take her to the market, so my dream of being around the community with my daughter cannot be realized.  She goes to church, to Home of Love, on walks around our neighborhood, and, on rare occasions, to the "big" store in town (but only if I don't need to buy soap or toilet paper because those are up stairs).  Someday, we hope to live out of town a bit, in which case she should be able to be out in the community more.

- I am her wheelchair tech.  Um... yeah.  I watched very attentively and asked hours of questions at every one of Gracie's wheelchair fittings... but... there's only so much I can "grow" her chair without additional parts.  After adjusting it all that I can, she's still about 2 inches too big for it.  The kid won't stop growing! ;-P Her AFOs STILL fit (two years in the making!!) thanks to careful craftmanship by her orthoticist who made a soft foot insert bootie inside the AFO.  When the AFOs were getting too tight, I just removed the bootie and got an extra year out of them!

- The insurance that we have is hardly paying for anything.  It's really okay, until she needs some major equipment.  We budget an extra amount every month JUST for Gracie's needs and God has provided abundantly.

I'm describing all of these challenges (and there are many more that I haven't shared) for several reasons:

1) There may be another missionary family out there who made the choice to move to a low resource setting with their child with significant special needs - I'd love to hear from you!

2) Pray for us and for Gracie! Pray that God would give us wisdom and discernment.  Pray that God would keep her healthy and delay her need for surgery.

3) These are the challenges that I (a doctor) have with my Gracie (the most joyful, engaging, delightful child you may ever meet!) in the context of an entire fan club of knowledgeable people in a high resource setting in the USA, after 5 years of the best medical care in the world getting her "tuned up."  Imagine what it is like for a parent here who is struggling to feed their family each day by gardening.  What challenges face that family? What would you do if faced with the decision to either care for your disabled child (it's more than a full time job!) OR feed the rest of your children? Would you be able to hang in there if your community, friends, relatives were insistent that your child was disabled because of demons? When your child became too big to carry on your back, how would you keep her safe from snakes, fire, aspiration, heat, cold? These are the families that I feel compelled to support.  Families who are in that impossible position.

When I'm discouraged, I allow my mind to wander and dream about the day that I can start this ministry to special needs children.  Everything that I am learning now is equipping me to better love these families and their children.  The more I understand Acholi culture, the more I tap into the resources that ARE available, the more that I shower my Gracie with love, the more prepared I will be when God opens the door to that ministry.

How do you spend your money?

Money is a difficult thing.  Anywhere.

"For you always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me" (Mark 14:7, ESV).

On many foreign mission fields, a missionary who is living on a salary well below the poverty threshold in their country of origin, is viewed as wealthy in their host country.  Since they are foreign, they surely have immediate access to unending streams of money.

Giving money in these settings is simply a bad idea.  I can write more about that later.

Even giving THINGS is often a bad idea.

So, here we are, trying to be responsible with our money, trying to live sacrificially, trying to demonstrate to our children that the riches of this world hold nothing for us... but we have to wrestle daily with how to spend our money.

YOU have to wrestle daily with how to spend your money.  

As I boiled it down, it came down to one principle: am I spending my money to invest in people?

I host a lot.  I mean, A LOT! And I'm thinking it's time to upgrade from market plates and hand me down mismatched utensils.  These work fine for our family - our children are in the training years.  They break dishes.  But when people come over... does this convey respect and honor to our guests? 

But it sure feels wrong to think about buying new dishes when our friend, "M", is currently parent-less because her father was put in prison over a land dispute and her step-mom stayed in the village to try to smooth things over.  New silverware seems trivial when "P" has lost not one but two nephews this week.   "J" sells milk off the back of his motorbike rain or shine in order to send his children and orphaned nephew to school.

We drive people around a lot - visitors, teams, volunteers, staff, children... Our car has proven faithful BUT way too small - it barely fits our family and severely limits our ability to be hospitable and pick people up at the airport (comfortably), carry luggage, or even get Gracie's good wheelchair out with us to the village.  So, we've been looking for a bigger van.

The "answer?" Make intentional careful decisions.  

Maybe that means new silverware - is your heart's desire to have a pretty table to have a pretty table? Or is your heart's desire to have a pretty table to bless those who gather around it, to make it comfortable for them, to show them respect and give them your best? 

Maybe that means a new car - is your heart's desire to turn heads, to drive in comfort? Or is your heart's desire to be able to reach more people, to show them love and compassion?

Maybe that means NOT getting the new car.  Not getting new plates.  Not eating meat this week.  Not having a soda or a fancy coffee.  Maybe in this season of life God is calling you to deny those earthly desires and use your money for something else.

Many people did exactly that two years ago - they chose to give up something that they wanted and instead gathered their money and sent it to ACTION - and here is the result in Gulu, Uganda at our home for vulnerable children:

(YUP! We got two pregnant cows!!!)

I don't have the answer for you - that's between you and God.  Let's trust God to guide each of us to make decisions with our money that show love for others and concern for God's glory.  Otherwise, what is the use of money?

Google search

Custom Search