Saturday, January 30, 2010

We only thought it was over…

Thursday, after finishing with our pharmacy clinic to distribute the long awaited medications, we packed our belongings into the bus and headed for Antigua. We arrived about 4:00 p.m. and were graciously greeted by the staff of Hotel Don Rodrigo. A lovely reception with fruit juice awaited us (quite refreshing!) and we quickly found our lovely, Spanish-style architecture rooms while the staff delivered our luggage to us. Some of us spent the next few hours shopping, some slept and some enjoyed the hot showers!

We all came back together again at 7:00 p.m. for a meal in the hotel restaurant.

The wait staff was attentive and the “floor show” was so much fun! Dancers in masks and costume performed a ceremonial dance for us while the live marimba band played accompanying music. Before it was all over, they had enticed several in our party to join them on the dance floor. One of our members even “killed the devil!”

Then, it was off to our rooms for an abbreviated night’s sleep. The Nashville-bound contingent had to be out in the courtyard of the hotel by 3:30 a.m. to load our luggage on the bus. The trip to the airport in Guatemala City can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 3 hours, depending on the time of day you make the trip. We had an early flight, so we wanted to get out of Antigua and to the airport ahead of the traffic.

Again, the hotel staff was very gracious. They had coffee and rolls waiting for us in the lobby, and packed each of us a lunch/breakfast to take with us. The ham and cheese sandwiches were great!

After checking in at the airport, we had a pleasant surprise. The exit tax we were expecting to pay, around $40 dollars each, had been included in the cost of our airline tickets (a first). We only had to pay $3.00 to leave the country. So, we checked our bags and got coffee and other great breakfast items from McDonald’s there in the airport!

Though we were told to be at the gate to load the plane at 7:50, actually boarding did not start until 8:40. But, we were finally in the plane and back on our way to the U.S.

Once we arrived in Dallas, we quickly learned via text messages and phone calls that our continuing flight to Nashville had been cancelled due to bad weather. We were very disappointed-we were all ready to be home! But the American Airlines staff was very gracious and efficient. After clearing customs, we learned they had already booked us on a Saturday flight and had contacted a hotel about holding rooms for us. After figuring out how to get us all to the Holiday Inn, we loaded taxis and headed to Arlington, TX for one more night. And, since we did not have to pay the exit tax, everyone had the money needed to cover the cost of the room and the taxi!

Once again we found a very gracious hotel staff. They made us feel very welcome and opened the hotel restaurant so that we could get a late lunch/early supper. Clean rooms, hot showers, and quiet nights were all wonderful after the very long day.

So, as I write this, we are preparing to head to Dallas airport to catch our flight to Nashville. At this point it looks like we will arrive home today, but there are probably many stories yet to be written about what this afternoon will hold!

My prayer is that we will be as gracious to those we encounter today and in the days ahead as the many folks we’ve seen in the last 24 hours have been to us.

Life is a journey. And to quote my friend Pat: “Live it sliding into second base!”

Thursday, January 28, 2010

His ways our not our ways

Tuesday night, shortly after supper, Jorge received a call notifying us that our medications had been released by customs. We all shouted, “Hallelujah!” Jorge travelled to Guatemala City and spent the night with his father so that he could be at the airport to pick up the medicines first as early as possible on Wednesday morning.

In the meantime, the team prepared to have our final clinic at El Shaddai church for the people living in Guazacapan. All week we told patients to return to the clinic on Wednesday to pick up the medicines that we could not provide on their original clinic visit. Our best guess was that Jorge would return with the medicines about 12:00 noon. So, even as we saw patients Wednesday morning, we encouraged them to return to the clinic that afternoon for their medicines. By late morning, most of the medicines that we were given over the weekend were running low or were gone.

Noon came and went – still no word from Jorge. About 2:30, with the clinic still very full of patients waiting to be seen, we heard from Jorge that there was yet another delay. The officials would not release the medicines because one of the crates contained Sudafed which is illegal to bring into the country.

Pastor Edgar announced to the people still waiting to see the doctors that, because of government red tape (my words, not his!), we would not have any medicines today. And, we may or may not have them on Thursday. However, if anyone still wished to see the doctor they were welcome to stay. No one left. No one complained. Pastor Edgar told the crowd that if the medicines arrived during the night, the doors of the church would be open at 9:00 a.m. to fill the “prescriptions.” If the doors were closed, then we had nothing to give.

Many of us were in tears. We so wanted to be able to provide for the needs of these beautiful people in the way we were equipped to do so. Many of the Guatemalans comforted us and thanked us repeatedly for coming.

At supper on Wednesday night we heard that customs still would not release the medicines. Now, they wanted a letter from Pastor Edgar, signed and notarized, explaining that the medicines were for the use of persons in Guazacapan and that we were here at his invitation. Pastor Edgar wrote the letter, got Brian Shaw’s signature on it (the customs claim check was in Brian’s name), got it notarized and left for Guatemala City – two hour’s drive.

Pastor Edgar and Jorge arrived back at Fe Viva with the medicines right at midnight! Plans were quickly formulated to rapidly dispense what was essentially three days worth of prescriptions - all in one morning. Right after breakfast we loaded the bus with the medicines (and ourselves) to head to El Shaddai church. And…the bus wouldn’t start. The battery was dead!

Truly, by this time many of us were wondering why we were not able to get these medications into the hands of the people that so desperately needed them. What was the lesson each of us was supposed to learn?

The medicines were unloaded off of the bus and were taken to the church in a pick-up truck along with a few of our team members. Our bus driver got another battery (from somewhere!) and used it to start the bus. Finally, we were off to the church to give out the meds.

Many people were there to pick up medicines for themselves or for family members. How many? Well, it’s hard to say because it all happened so fast. At least 300 prescriptions were filled in less than two hours!

After all of the people had been given their medications (plus tracts and t-shirts!), we were invited to have a seat inside the church building for a presentation by the mayor of Guazacapan! Honestly, though we were pleased to hear his words of thanks and to receive his presentation of gratitude, it was hot inside that building! According to one thermometer…over 100 degrees!

We returned to Fe Viva, repaid the medicines they had loaned us with more than we took, and loaded the bus for Antigua-our final stop before catching a plane tomorrow morning (early!).

Depending on who you talked to and when you talked to them, several different variations of the story of “the trouble with the meds” circulated, but roughly it went something like this:

• Friday arrival- customs says they need a signature and stamp to release the meds. Office that can provide that is now closed.
• Saturday- person cannot be found for needed signature; brothers donate medicines left from previous medical mission teams.
• Sunday-progress is being made but now we need to pay taxes to bring the medicines into the country. Fe Viva loans us medicines they have onsite.
• Monday- We are notified that we need an inventory of all medicines (in Spanish) and a letter from Pastor Edgar. Two different organizations are now involved in trying to redeem our medicines.
• Tuesday-Taxes are paid, and that night we hear they have been released. Jorge leaves to go pick them up.
• Wednesday- Sudafed pronounced illegal; we are accused of knowingly trying to bring illegal medicines into the country; another letter from Pastor Edgar needed. Late that night medicines finally released.

This is perhaps one of the few medical missions trips ever performed where there were no medicines. And yet, there was medicine! Not what we provided, but what God provided.

Chances are we will never know the “why” of our medications not being released. But, we do know the “who”.

It’s true-His ways our not our ways. Thanks be to God!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Ask and you shall receive

As we prepared for clinic this morning, our prayers were for divine appointments. Though we still had some medicines, the variety was very limited, especially with pain medications. Several people prayed that God would send us patients who had needs that we would be able to meet.

As we arrived at the clinic site this morning, we were greeted once again with a round of applause. What a rush! We felt like rock stars!!

Thanks to the advanced preparation by the members of El Shaddai church, our set up was quick and efficient. Soon, we were treating our first patients.

For the first time ever, we have a medical technician with us that is trained to take blood pressure. So, once the patients received their de-worming medicine, they came through the blood pressure station before seeing a doctor. This step allowed the doctors to be more thorough and spend more quality time with each patient.

Also, this year we have a nurse practitioner with a specialty in orthopedics. Todd was a part of this team in the past but was unable to participate for the last several years. Well, today, he saw more orthopedic patients and gave away more orthotics than he had in all of his previous trips combined!

The dental team was able to work all day thanks to the anesthesia that they borrowed from Fe Viva. Medicines were dispensed through the pharmacy as written by the doctors.

When the day was over, the team had seen every dental patient without a single dose anesthesia left over. Pharmacy reported that it seemed the drugs “multiplied” as the day wore on. They would report to the doctors that a particular medication was gone only to find more a few minutes later.

Our prayers were answered as we reflected on the day and realized that God had indeed brought to us the very patients that we were prepared to treat!

Finally, as we ate supper, Jorge received the call that our medications have cleared customs! Even as this is being written, Jorge and Pastor Edgar are on their way to Guatemala City to pick up the medicines from the airport. They will drive them directly to our clinic site on Wednesday. Please pray for their safety and that the government officials do not change their mind!

Many patients will come at the clinic tomorrow to pick up the medicines we promised them earlier in the week. Pray for a smooth process and order as we dispense medicines to these folks while at the same time we process new patients through the clinic.

Ask and you shall receive. Lord, we believe! Help our unbelief!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Five Loaves & Two Fishes

Monday - Today we held our first clinic for the people in Guazacapan. We were at an elementary school. The people were lined up waiting for us outside the school when we arrived. Volunteers from El Shaddai Church had been working for over two hours – cleaning and prepping the classrooms for our use. Then, the most amazing thing happened as we pulled into the school yard in our bus - the people waiting for us gave us a round of applause! We were blessed before we ever left the bus!

We set up our different stations, and every person, medical or not, found a way to contribute to the clinic. We served more than 350 people today. We gave them de-worming medication, took their blood pressure and heart rate, examined them for problems, gave them glasses, pulled their teeth, gave them food and gave them the medicine the doctors prescribed.

Yep, we gave them the medicine the doctors prescribed…even though our medicines are still sitting in the airport in Guatemala City. We were able to provide medicines for all of these persons from the medications we were given yesterday (remember the rooftop story?). Doug was able to pull over 100 teeth using the anesthesia given to him by Fe Viva ministry.

We had the medications we needed for almost every situation. Substitutions were made with the drugs we had available and some persons were asked to return to the church on Wednesday (where we will have another clinic) to pick up medications that were not critical.

Those gifts of medicines were like the five loaves and two fishes-the entire clinic was serviced and there were medications left over.

One of our team members made an interesting observation. Some of the patients were asked to come to the church to pick up their medications, when perhaps they have never been to church in their life! They will be receiving their “healing” in the house of God! Pray that this opportunity will be the first step for spiritual healing in their life.

As of this writing, we are still waiting for our medications to be released. Plans are in place for a full scale clinic to be run tomorrow. Pray that once again our supply of medicines will be multiplied-just like the five loaves and two fishes.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Now that's what I'm talkin' about!

On Saturday, while the rest of the team spent a day in Antigua sight-seeing, several team members were in Guatemala City trying to redeem our medicines. It didn’t happen. So, Abraham Luna’s (Jorge’s father) pastor began making phone calls. He located a ministry in Guatemala City run by two brothers. These brothers had leftover medicines that had been donated to them by other medical teams. They invited Jorge, Dr Ponce, and Laine to literally come onto their roof and choose which medicines they wanted.

At first we thought that these medicines would be “on loan,” and that we would repay them once our medicines cleared customs. The brothers assured us that, “No,” we did not have to pay back the medicines - they were ours to dispense!

So, once the team returned from Antigua, the process began of inventorying what medicines we had on hand. It was decided that we would dispense only immediate need medicine on Sunday, since the persons attending this clinic could come back on Wednesday to pick up their medications.

With this plan in place, we now have a fairly well stocked “farmacia” for a clinic on Monday morning while our medicines get retrieved from the airport. We continue to believe that our medicines will be released and that God will be glorified.

So, we had our first clinic this morning at the El Shaddai church for their members. We were able to have a complete clinic except for dental (no anesthesia for pulling teeth). It turned out to be a great way for those who had never participated in a clinic to get started. We saw about 170 people at the church, then came back and did a small clinic for the Fe Viva employees and their families. Team members who were not needed in the clinic played with the kids at Casa Esparanza, the Children’s Home here at Fe Viva.

Bottom line – today, we were able to do what we came to do – work to relieve the suffering of people in Guazacapan and do it in the name of Jesus.

Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Out Of Order

I’m not a morning person. So, arriving at the church at 4:00 a.m. on Friday morning was a stretch for me. I was encouraged by our staff and families who were there to see us off - I wouldn’t have been there if I were in their shoes.

Once at the airport, things proceeded smoothly, according to plan. We were all at our gate in time to get breakfast before our first flight. The flight to Miami was smooth and we had no problems. We boarded our flight for Guatemala City and things were working out fine…according to plan.

We all cleared immigration with no problem. Then we got to customs. The customs officials would not let our medicines through. They had no issues with our personal belongings, or with the crates that did not contain medicine. The customs officials needed a piece of paper with a stamp and a seal on it that we didn’t have.
Once he realized that the matter wasn’t going to be solved quickly, Doug Nally had us exit the airport and wait outside while he, Jorge and Pastor Edgar tried to resolve the issue. The original plan was for us to clear customs, board the waiting bus and travel to the restaurant where we would have supper. Now, things were not working according to plan - they were, well… out of order.

We waited outside the airport for about an hour, praying the entire time that God would resolve the issue and release the medications. We heard from another team at the airport trying to collect their medicines, that a government official was unhappy with the actions of a team that preceded us. He was taking out his frustration out on us by not letting the medicines clear.

As evening drew near, Pastor Edgar was concerned for our safety as we sat outside the airport with all of our belongings. So, we boarded the bus and drove to El Shaddai Church of Guatemala City. This church is the “mother church” of the church Pastor Edgar serves in Guazecapan.

Definitely out of “our” order, but what a blessing and what a treat! Though we were in the heart of the city, we felt like we were in our own little world. This church’s beautiful sanctuary seats 5,000. A group was there preparing for a concert on Saturday night, and they gave us a preview. We were comfortable, we had entertainment and we had bathrooms! But… we still had no meds.

Once it was evident the meds would not be released on Friday night, we began our long bus ride toward supper and ultimately Fe Viva, our “home” during this trip. We stopped at the pre-planned restaurant for our supper at 9:00 p.m. The food was really good - but by then most anything would have tasted good! Back on the bus for more riding and we arrived at Fe Viva about 11:30 p.m. - physically and emotionally exhausted.
As options about what to do were discussed, the leadership team decided to move our “day off” from Thursday to Saturday, in hopes that somehow the meds could be cleared through customs. So, now we are on our way to Antigua…definitely out of order.

And yet today, in the midst of this chaos we are experiencing, I’m reminded that God took Chaos and ordered the world into creation. He “ordered” the lives of the Israelites so that they were freed from captivity, not once, but many times in history. And He has ordered my life, just as He promised me he would.
So, though my world seems “out of order” at the moment, I know that God’s order is still in place, just like it has been from the beginning.

So, Lord, repair me. Remind me that even though my world seems out of order, Your’s is working perfectly.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Gettin' Ready!

Tomorrow we leave for Guatemala. "We" are about 40 people from all over the country, coming together to provide medical and dental services for people in Guazacapan, Guatemala. We were there two years ago, so it will be good to go to some place familar.

Those of you that know me know I'm not medical. So, why am I going? I've wrestled with that question myself. The last two years I went to take pictures while my husband shot video. Later, I helped him compile the images into a presentation shown at our church in Nashville, TN. This year we decided not to shoot video, so my husband will take the pictures. What's left to do? I only speak a little Spanish. I don't pull teeth (even when they were my children's), I don't de-worm, I don't take blood pressure, etc. All of those jobs are better handled by someone else.

What do I do? As I've thought about this question, I think God has provided me with a couple of answers:
1) I love. I've prayed that God would grant me a special love for the people of Guazacapan, the kind of love that can be understood without language.
2) I tell stories. I think part of my job is to watch, listen, and retell the stories of the work we do.
3) I pray. I plan to spend part of my time prayer-walking our clinics. I can intercede on behalf of all who arrive for care that we will be able to meet their physical and spiritual needs.
4) I encourage. Days can be long, and the conditions difficult. Reminding the doctors, nurses, dentists, and others that they are doing a good job can go a long way in making the days bearable.

I hope I will be able to do a lot more. But I know I can do these things.

What do you do?

"So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life-your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life-and place it before God as an offering." Romans 12:1 The Message