Wednesday, February 27, 2013

6 Months!?

At the airport in August
I looked at my calendar this morning and immediately got into an argument with it. My calendar was telling me that I’ve been here 6 months now, to which I said, “You’re a liar!” It seems impossible, but I guess calendars don’t lie. I’m aware that what I’m about to say is a cliché, but at times it feels I’ve been here for years and other times it feels I’ve been here for a day. When I think back to the last things that I was doing back home, that literally seems like a week ago. My timeframe of my life in the States stopped when I got on that plane to Cape Town, so without any other American stimulus those days seem stuck in time in my head. But when I think back to when I stepped off the plane in Cape Town, that seems like decades ago. So many amazing and crazy experiences have happened since then. I can hardly keep them all straight in my head. I spent the morning looking through some old photos and the nostalgia for home really started kicking in hard! I miss my family, I miss my friends, and man-o-man do I miss my pets!

Going away party 6 months ago

I’ve spent time in many different places during the past 6 months. Nearly a month of my time here has been spent in Cape Town, both on holiday and work. I’ve spent over 4 months in Maseru and now a month here at the Hospital! Not to mention some time in Grahamstown, SA and a trip to Kenya that’s coming up next month. Needless to say, it’s been the busiest 6 months I’ve ever had. I’m excited to be at the hospital now and I’m loving the feeling of being settled for a change. It’s been a lot of moving around so it’s nice to have a place to call home for longer than a few weeks or months!

St. James circa late 1960's
Life at the hospital is chugging along, as it has for the past 50 years. Ntate John, the hospital Administrator, gave me 2 books on the history of St. James. Both were written by doctors who spent a considerable number of years here, but the one that has been most interesting is the one written by Dr. Kenneth Luckman, the first doctor at St. James. His book tells the story of how he accepted the call to be the doctor at a mission hospital that hadn’t even been built yet! I’m a bit of a history buff, especially local history, so reading about how the community came together to help build this institution is really cool.

St. James today

One of the villages around the Hospital
Although Mantsonyane is still pretty remote compared to many places in the world, it’s made some big strides since the 1960’s. When Dr. Luckman first arrived, there wasn’t even a road that stretched from Maseru to the hospital site. The dirt road from Maseru stopped about 12 miles away in a village called Marakabei. Those 12 miles had to be traveled on foot or, if you were lucky, horseback. I’m still really baffled about how they got all of the building materials and hospital equipment over those mountain passes without the use of vehicles. Then again, the resourcefulness of the Basotho never ceases to amaze me! The road to Maseru today is completely paved. The trip can take you just over 2 hours, which is a huge improvement over the 6+ hours that it took during Dr. Luckman’s time. Many of the luxuries that we take for granted everyday in the States really only arrived here in Mantsonyane within the past decade. For example, the paved road or even telephones. The hospital got its first landline in the mid 2000’s. Before then, it was completely dependant on a shortwave radio tower to talk to Maseru. It’s really a crazy story. I believe Dr. Luckman’s book may be out of print, but you can try and find a copy here if interested.

A typical village toilet

New and expecting mothers at the weekly natal clinic
It’s really interesting to compare the health challenges that the hospital faced just starting out to the challenges that the hospital faces today. With the exception of HIV/AIDS related illnesses, the major health issues that the hospital deals with on a day-to-day basis really have not changed that much in the past 50 years. For instance, maternal health issues have always been a major focus of the hospital. On any given day you can find a handful of Basotho women waiting around to give birth. Women sometimes show up 2 months away from their expected delivery date, a practice that has taken place since the hospital’s start. Since travel to the hospital can involve hours on horseback over mountain passes, Basotho women do not have the luxury of waiting until labor starts to head to the hospital. Early arrival is often the only way to guarantee that they’ll be seen by a doctor during delivery. It also helps the hospital provides meals and housing for the expecting mothers during their stay!

With each day here I grow more and more at ease with life in Mantsonyane. People are starting to recognize me and are realizing that I’m not just a strange, possibly lost visitor walking through town. Since I’m a foreigner and I work at the hospital, people just assume that I’m a doctor, which could not be further from the truth. The closet thing I have to a medical degree is an expired CPR certification. Walking through town, I've had people come shake my hand and call me doctor or yell “Hello, Doctor” as I pass by. I even had a lady at one of the local shops pull down her shirt collar to show me a rash on her neck and asked if I knew what it was. I informed her that I was, if fact, not a doctor, to which she quickly covered her neck back up and avoided eye contact with me for the rest of our interaction. Hopefully people will soon start to realize that I’m not a new doctor over at St. James. Until then, I’ll continue to bask in the undeserved recognition!

It’s been a crazy first 6 months of my YASC experience. Let’s hope the next 6 months are filled with as much love and warmth as the past 6 months have been! I've got some exciting news to announce soon, so make sure to check back here in the coming weeks. Sala hantle! 

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Mission Of A Mission

(Warning: The following are just my ramblings and do not include any real story of what I've been doing that past couple weeks here at the hospital. Read at your own discretion. You have been warned)

What is mission? It’s a term that the church uses a lot, and I think it’s a term that we all too often use blindly. But the question of “What is mission?” is one that I find central to what I’m doing here in Lesotho, so I find myself thinking about the answer a lot. I’m not too sure that I’ve come up with a reasonable answer yet! The Episcopal Church considers what I’m doing, and what all other YASCers are doing, as mission work. We are missionaries, but I don’t think of that term in the traditional sense. The YASC group spent a good bit of time discussing this during our training in Toronto back in July. I had a really hard time accepting the term missionary when it was put upon the YASC group because my understanding of a missionary at the time was the one that I think most people think of when they hear the term. I had the vision of a bible-toting, salvation/damnation spewing character whose only goal is to convert people to Christianity. That is a vision of mission work that I will never support or ultimately understand. But that is the stereotypical vision that I feel a lot of people unfortunately and unfairly associate with the idea of a missionary because for far too long, that was what a missionary was. So if I am a missionary, but not that kind of missionary, where does that leave me?

The Anglican Communion recognizes 5 marks of mission that were established by the Anglican Consultative Council in the late 1980’s. The 5 marks are:
  1. To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
  2. To teach, baptize, and nurture new believers
  3. To respond to human need by loving service
  4. To seek to transform unjust structures of society
  5. To safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.
When I think about my previous understanding of mission work, I realize my understanding really only accounted for the first 2 marks of mission. While both of those are integrally important to mission work, they are not the whole story. Actually, they leave out a good majority of the story, which is why I think I had such a hard time accepting the title of missionary.  It’s the last 3 marks of mission that I personally believe to be the most important yet understated principles of mission work. Yes, we can proclaim the gospel all we want and we can nurture new believers until the end of time, but what are we nurturing them with? What exactly are we proclaiming? It is the last 3 marks that allow us to fulfill the first 2. It’s through our service to others that we become more like Christ. It’s by standing up against the unjustness of our world that we proclaim the good news and teach others what it means to be a Christian. It’s through protecting God’s creation that we create the world that we want to see. When I think about mission work, and the work that I want to do, those are the things I think about.  But this is not a lesson on the marks of mission. I bring them up simply to demonstrate the complexity of the idea of "mission".

This complexity has me contemplating the idea of “mission” when applied to a hospital. We hear the term “Mission Hospital” all the time, but again I think we use the term blindly. Looking beyond the basic concept of a simple church connection, what exactly does it mean to be a mission hospital? I’ve been meeting with the hospital staff one-on-one to talk about the website’s development and I always ask, “What do you think the mission of St. James is?” The answers that I’ve been getting come to the core of what I think mission work is and should be. Though the answers are all different, they seem to all come back to the same idea that complete healing is not exclusively a physical thing, its spiritual as well. To be healed is to be at peace with mind, body, and soul. Doctors and medicine can bandage people’s physical wounds but what about the spiritual wounds that stem from those physical wounds? How do those wounds heal? The staff at St. James strives to make sure that when a patient leaves, they leave complete. It’s an admirable goal and a hell of a challenge. To me, it's a perfect representation of the last 3 marks of mission. Ok, I’ll stop my ramblings now.

On another note, this past weekend was the discernment weekend for the 2013-2014 YASC group in Florida. It’s crazy to think that a year ago I was in that group in Florida learning about the YASC program. Time goes quick. I want to wish all of the YASC applicants good luck! It’s been the experience of a lifetime so far and I’m excited that another group of young adults will get to be a part of this mission as well! Sala hantle!