Monday, November 30, 2015

The Old Man in Our Bed

Something strange happened after nine efficient years of marriage. We invited an old man to come share our marriage bed with us.

Ok, not really. But she certainly looks like an old man. As did the previous three.

On November 8, 2015 at 2:12pm, Danae sneezed, and our fourth child and second daughter was born at 7lb 14.3oz and 21 inches. It was just that easy. (So long as you never ask anybody who was actually present. Or within earshot of Danae. Which would have been about a quarter mile at that volume. She would have made a lousy Scientologist.)

Our life is pretty hectic, so I’ve started planning right away. Failing to plan is planning to fail is what a picture of an eagle soaring hung in an office once taught me. It was inspirational.

So freshest daughter of mine, here is what’s planned for the next stretch…

January 10, we will fly to Dallas, Texas. Hmm… Better buy some tickets. Oh, and a hotel. And probably a rental car too.

January 12, your Mommy will take her oral boards to become a board-certified obstetrician/gynecologist. I’ll watch you while she does that. Hmm… I’m still not lactating. We better buy some bottles and a pump.

January 18 or 19, we need to fly back to Tchad and introduce you to your home. Oh, I still haven’t bought those airline tickets. We need six of them now! Ouch.

May 8, you can start eating solid foods! I guess I’ll need to buy you some Gerber’s to take back with us. How much can a six-month-old eat of that stuff?

Um… This is getting less fun…

August 2022, it will be your first day of school! Mommy and Daddy will wake up early and make you a breakfast of pancakes with natural peanut butter and blueberry syrup. Then we will pack your lunch and laugh at how ridiculously large your backpack looks. Mommy will insist you wear the special first-day-of-school outfit she couldn’t resist buying for $40, but you will throw a massive tantrum, so we will just let you go to school with the mismatched socks and orange sweater with red pants like you wanted to wear in the first place, and have worn for the last 16 days straight without washing them.

August 2030, you will be almost fifteen. You and your sister will be in academy. Your two brothers will be in college. I want the best education for you guys, no matter what. I promise I will pay for the best college you can get a free ride to. I’m going to buy you the SAT study guide now and reserve you a spot in the SAT summer camp. Maybe I should register you for a Montessori school now. Never too soon. If you guys can’t get scholarships, and there are four of you… that’s… that times that… carry the two… add those together… but minus that… divided by pi… That’s a lot of money. Mommy better pass her oral boards so she can get a real job.

March 2034, we will go to your Senior Prom. You will ask me to go as your date. Not necessarily by choice, but because you felt sorry for me after I spent $600 taking dance lessons specifically for this event… And after I told your principal I would castrate any boy who asked you out. It will be special for both of us. I will get you a really cool corsage. I haven’t decided yet if it will be the kind I pin on your dress or the kind you wear around your wrist. It’s still early. We don’t need to choose yet. We can make a final decision next month.

November 8, 2045 is another important date. It’s the day you’ll turn 30. And you remember what day we celebrate then, don’t you? That’s right! It’s the day you’ll be allowed to go on your first date!

July 12, 2048. Daddy will turn 69. Mommy is MUCH older than Daddy, which we will remind her of every day, so she will already be 69. This is the day we will move in with you!!!! Hooray! And we will go senile. Just so you’re aware, I’m actually keeping count of every diaper you poop. Payback is a bummer.

Precious baby girl, we’re really excited and happy to have you in our lives. A little less excited you’re pooping and vomiting and grunting and squeaking in the bed… But you’re worth it. Despite the face and sounds of a disgruntled old man trying to poop for the first time in a month, you’re quite easily one of the two cutest things in bed every morning.

Introducing to the world, Polly Smackface Netteburg (pronounced PAH-lee SMAHK-fah-chay).

                                          (above picture by Becky Jarnes)

We mostly didn’t talk to the other three kids much about this baby during the pregnancy. Around six months pregnant, I asked the boys what they wanted to name the baby. Lyol was quite set on Love Bere Fruit Gummy Netteburg and Zane was quite consistent with Polly Smackface Netteburg. Addison was consistent in not wanting a baby. We heard it was always good to get the children involved in the pregnancy to better accept the new baby, and that the naming process was important for them. So although it might not be conventional, we decided Polly Smackface really has a ring to it.

Just kidding, her name is Juniper Belle Netteburg.

PS. Danae has now been pregnant over ⅓ of our marriage, so we’ve decided to wait three years before we have number five.

Home Birth

The months leading up to our due date of November 8 were a little more tense than normal.  The kids and I left Chad because of possible instability in the country.  We had planned to leave after another month anyways to deliver in America, so this was just a little extra time for me to fatten up in America.  

Olen stayed behind at the hospital in Chad.  Five and a half long weeks.  He made plans to leave at a moment’s notice if anything worsened in the country.  

I began to feel the anxiety at 36 weeks when Olen wasn’t sure when he would be coming to join me.  He was trying to wait until another doctor would replace him (my Dad, Papa Bland).  Meanwhile I imagined all kinds of outcomes while being alone with three children.  Thankfully Gamma Netteburg was around a lot to help out.  My last children delivered quite quickly, and we were a good 45 minutes away from a hospital in Virginia.  Awesome.  That’s all I needed was a delivery in route to the hospital with all three kids watching!  Or worse yet, something gone wrong with a delivery, which I see quite frequently in my OB world.  

Most women in Chad deliver at home.  Typically OB doctors are against home births.  I’m more so in Chad.  It’s at home in a mud hut, no running water or electricity, no ambulance in case something goes wrong… just bad conditions.  So when things go wrong, they tend to go really wrong.  Or things get really delayed even getting to the hospital.    And when they do get to a hospital, often the staff isn’t even trained correctly in OB.  All of this leads to distrust and increased morbidity and death.  I get the privilege of caring for these women in need.  We do our best at our hospital to make them feel valued and cared for.  Each mommy and baby matters.  

There is nothing worse than not feeling comfortable about your delivery plan.  I can see both sides of this story.  As a provider, I just want to do what’s best for my patient and her baby.  Realizing that emergencies are real and do happen.  But providers have different opinions as to “what’s best.”  In America, legal matters are on the rise.  A provider may be quicker to cut than need be.  This fear of providers may be one reason for the increased trend in home births.  Or maybe new mommies just want to have their space at home.  I’m not sure.  I can understand it though.  

As a patient, I wanted to feel respected and listened to.  I wanted to feel safe.  It’s nice to have met the person at least once that may be making life and death decisions about you and your baby.  To know that they are competent.  It’s also nice to have a little privacy, while knowing that in an emergency, those extra people needed would in fact walk in the room and be available in a moment’s notice.  Competency, skilled surgeon, anesthesia, nicu, caring and skilled nurses and staff, compassion, all traits sought after.  

With Lyol, it was a no-brainer where we were going to deliver.  I was on call when I went into labor.  A co-resident checked me and I was already 5cm.  So I was admitted, got an epidural, pushed for almost 3 hours, begged for an episiotomy to relieve the pressure (felt like my coccyx was going to break into a million pieces), and out came a healthy boy, face up!  I never told patients again that their “pressure” was not pain with an epidural!  

I delivered at a random hospital in New Jersey with Zane.  We were TRYING (albeit stupidly retrospectively) to make it BACK to our old hospital.  Pulled up to a hospital off the New Jersey Turnpike in labor.  They lied and said they had OB there.  ER doc speculumed me to see if I was crowning.  Awesome.  Got transferred to another hospital 20 minutes away by ambulance and delivered 10 minutes after arrival.  Even with my last minute arrival, and self-prenatal care in “Africa.”, most people were very nice.  All except the last nurse of the day who treated me like a crack-addict.  

Addison delivered at Baystate.  We were 5 minutes away and still only in the room for 20 minutes before delivery.

So me and the kids waited for Daddy…in Northern Virginia…not knowing the provider, the hospital or the future.  I didn’t fly half way across the world to deliver on the side of the road!  I could have done that in Chad!  (As a side note, there are doctors/midwives in Virginia, but chances are you won’t actually deliver with the one that you actually have met!)

Well at 37 1/2 weeks our family became complete.  No, not with a new baby, but with Olen.  He made it home because he loves his fourth child!  And he knew his life would be in danger if he waited any longer.  Not from the dangers in Chad, but from me.  

At 39 weeks we left the three older children with Gamma and Gampa and headed up to MA.  We made it to our “obstetrical home” at Baystate Medical Center, the place where I felt at ease and comfortable.  The place where I knew my care would be superior.  My baby was even considerate and waited until I had fit in a week’s worth of practice sessions for oral boards with Baystate attendings.  I also enjoyed morning visiting sessions with Tanya, an amazing pedicure with Beth, a few dates with Olen, and a nice Friday night visit with the Moores.   

Then our baby decided it was time.  Exactly on her due date.  We had the most beautiful home birth imaginable, right in our obstetrical home in the hospital.  Everything was available, though we didn’t need it.  

At 11am, I had my doctor check me, as the contractions were actually feeling good, and I wasn’t sure I was in labor.  Ha ha, they weren’t feeling good, but they were not that intense yet.  I was 4cm.  Shortly thereafter I was 7cm and admitted.  I hadn’t planned on a shower in my birth plan, but it was actually a good idea.  (And, no OB would make a birth plan. It just begs for disappointment.  You might think it, but never put it in writing, along with not saying no to residents or med students.)   My doctor and nurse duo team were so patient and caring.  I seriously couldn’t have asked for a better team.  

The shower did it’s best to distract me from the pain.  It all happened so fast thankfully.  

Then, there’s that moment when I wished I would have gotten an epidural.  You forget that pain with time, but I can understand why patients say they are going to die.  Because that is what you feel.  You seriously can’t see to the other side of the pain.  I really wanted to refuse the delivery, but it’s not really an option at that point.  So instead I just closed my eyes.  And remembered I was in good hands.  And out of all the places in the world, we were in the most perfect place.  

2:12 pm.  Our new baby came out.  She was plopped on my belly.  Olen said she was perfect.  My eyes were still closed.

Our new beautiful baby girl and I did lots of skin to skin, then Daddy put her on his chest for more skin to skin.  Our perfect little girl.  How could God make something so perfect after already doing it three times before?  I will never understand.  

You are perfect baby girl.  We love you.

Mommy and Daddy

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Olen's Go Bag

So since the church agreed to let me stay alone in Tchad five weeks ago, I agreed to have a "Go Bag", meaning I could walk into my house and walk out of my house five seconds later with a bag of essentials should I be notified of a reason to evacuate. In case you're interested of what exactly goes into a "Go Bag", here's my list:

Computer Bag. 
Two straps for closing and carrying. 
Water bottle full and attached to the outside. 
Lots of zip ties. 
Clif Bars x 2. 
Boxers x 2. 
Pants x 2. 
Shirts x 4. 
GPS x 2 with new batteries. 
Phone charger with USB adapter and US-Europe adapter. 
USB drives with important information x 2. 
Headlamp with new batteries. 
Antibiotics, azithro and doxy. 
Malarone for malaria. 
Metronidazole for amoebas. 
Misoprostol for, um, gastritis. 
Cash, Central African francs and US dollars. 
House keys for America. 
Can opener. 
Fingernail clippers. 
Toilet paper. 
Two notebooks of AHI finances. 
Papers to travel with our dogs. 
Nissan papers and keys should I need that car. 
4Runner papers and keys should I need that car. 
Yamaha motorcycle papers and keys should I need it. 
Moto Dame motorcycle papers and keys should I need it. 
Yellow fever vaccination card. 
AHI memorandum of understanding with the Tchadian government. 
Driver's license. 
California physician's license. 
Social security card. 
Loma Linda faculty card. 
Insurance cards x 2. 
Credit cards x 3. 
Tchadian driver's license. 
Bere hospital ID. 
Passport photos x 2. 
Frequent flyer card. 
Spare Tchadian SIM cards x 3. 
Cameroonian SIM card. 
Paper clip. 

That's a Go Bag. 

Editor's note:  Olen's coming to America on Thursday to meet his very pregnant wife (that's me!), so shouldn't need this Go Bag much longer.  My parents, Rollin and Dolores Bland, are returning to Chad tomorrow.  We're planning on returning in January, post baby and OB oral boards.  

Tuesday, October 6, 2015


Burkina Faso. Yemen. Syria. Burundi. Libya.

Burkina Faso ousted their past president in advance of their upcoming presidential election. An interim president was named. The presidential guard then arrested the interim president and prime minister on the grounds of… boredom and misaimed devotion to the ousted president, it would seem. The military isn’t sure what to do… except make their own power grab. The population is ticked that they have no president and the interim guy was arrested for reasons yet unknown. Hot mess.

Yemen has been a Muslim no-man’s land filled with Al-Qaeda and Al-Qaeda rumors. There’s little to no political infrastructure. Little to no infrastructure period. But they have lots of sand. They have that going for them. That’s one plus. Probably about the only plus.

Syria is undergoing massive civil war with factions fighting over who can dominate what and whether it be secular or Muslim. People are fleeing by the millions, willing to risk drowning in Mediterranean to make it to Turkey or Greece, then to Macedonia where the government is providing trains to move the fugitives on to the next country. They continue to cross borders across eastern Europe illegally while authorities turn a blind eye, going by foot or bus or train or any other means to reach Budapest, Hungary and the EU, where they stall for ages, before finally being allowed on to Austria, Germany and a dozen other destinations. Super hot mess.

Burundi. Al-Qaeda straight up says they’re gonna blow up the US embassy. Crazy.

Libya. Bengazi. Al-Qaeda. Embassy. Ghadafi’s shadow. Lockerbie. More boats drifting across the Mediterranean. Take your pick of historical and current hot messes.




Tchad is now one of six countries from which the US State Department is recommending departure of all American citizens as soon as is feasible and is allowing non-essential embassy personnel and personnel families to repatriate.


We’re one of the six most dangerous countries to be an American in?

There’s just no way.

Well, we got the message Sabbath morning, September 12, directly from the State Department via the US embassy list serv.

Easy decision to leave, right?

Not so.

It’s not as easy as saying, go where you’ll be the safest. If that were the case, we never would have come to Tchad in the first place. And you don’t spend five years of your life dedicated to building up an institution just to leave it at the drop of a hat. We have bled here. We have shed tears here. And goodness knows we have sweat here. This is our home. Our house is here. Our friends are here. Our dogs and cats are here (and the buried bunnies and hedgehogs and genet). The majority of our married life has been spent here. Our three (and soon to be four) kids don’t know any other home but this one. Our entire professional careers have been spent here after training. We’ve spent the last five years learning tropical medicine, learning the languages (I can say vomit in French, Arabic, Nancere, Ngambai, Maraba and Fulani and greetings in several more), learning the people, learning the culture. We’ve recruited my in-laws, my aunt and uncle, the McDowells, Zach and a load of other volunteers. We’ve probably seen 200 volunteers come through in the last five years.

And then what do we go back to? We don’t have a car in America. We don’t have a job. We don’t have a school. We don’t have… anything meaningful, really. Well, extended family is meaningful.

And if we leave, what will let us know we can come back again? Once the State Department puts up a warning, it usually doesn’t come down for a while. Years. 

If we leave, how long do we sit on our butts in America waiting on Tchad before we move on with our lives? Who pays our salary? Who pays our medical school bills? Who pays our insurance?

If we leave, where do we go?

Another mission?

Stay in America?

This is not nearly as easy a decision as it seems on the surface.

Understandably, the evacuation insurance company wanted to get us out sooner rather than later. If things head south, evacuation gets pricy.

Understandably, our church wanted to get us out sooner rather than later. Worst-case scenarios probably flying through their heads, the last thing they need is a missionary killed or kidnapped.

I can’t blame the church. They made the right call for their purposes. I can’t blame the insurance company. They made the right call for their purposes.

We negotiated with the church and arrived at a compromise. I would stay in Bere. James would go to Moundou. The other twenty would leave. Including Danae and the kids. We packed as we always do. Empty suitcases headed to America with plans to fill them and return to Tchad full.

So September 15, poor little old me was left alone waving goodbye to my in-laws, my volunteers, my 32-week-plus pregnant wife and my 3.8 children. I was understandably depressed for the first few days. I still don’t like it, but I’ve realized how much more efficient and productive a human being can be when there aren’t kids aged 6, 4 and 2 running around. Not a trade I’d make voluntarily, but at least there’s some upside.

But the McDowell four will never return. It’s highly unlikely any of our four student missionaries will return. At least one volunteer won’t be returning to Moundou.

I’ve contacted a Brazilian pediatrician, an American surgeon, a Ukrainian surgeon, and American FP and his friend, a Brazilian GP, a nurse with her BSN, a contractor team, and electrician team, an accountant and others. I’ve told them to hold off on their plans to come. This hurts. This sets us back. Way back.

So there you have it. We’re trying to make the best of the situation. Danae is driving to Virginia tomorrow and will enroll Lyol in school, a couple weeks late. 

The church will meet this week to decide our fate. If there’s no change, can our regulars return in a couple weeks? The Blands, Zach, the Gardners? These are people critical to our success. 

Or if there’s no change, does that mean people still need to stay away until embassy staff are called back and the recommendation to evacuate is lifted?

If that’s the case, like I said, how long do we wait? Honestly, we’ve poured so much of ourselves into this mission, I don’t think we could start over again someplace else. It would take too much out of us. It’s certainly not a job you can do halfway. 

But we don’t feel ready to quit. Surely this isn’t how God planned our stay here to end. It’s just not possible. While we’re not ready to move on to another mission field, we’re also not ready to move back to America, buy an SUV, shop at Trader Joe’s and take our kids to soccer practice while living the upper-middle class suburban picket fence dream. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But it’s just not us. From here to there? No. Can’t be.

And get a job? I love emergency medicine. Everything about it. But who’s going to take me at the drop of a hat with no American experience in over five years? I’d need to find a job, get licensed, get hospital privileges. That would take a minimum of three months, usually more. Do I start looking now?

So everything is in the balance.

For the moment, I’m sitting tight in Bere, alone. Wondering how long I dare delay before going to America to my pregnant wife. Can I wait until 37 weeks? 38? 39? If I leave before somebody comes back and there’s no longer a presence, will it be harder to come back later? Will I ever get to come back?

Why not leave? We spent five years of our prime as the dumb idiots here while God tripled our income, doubled our patients, tripled our square footage, laid the foundation for a nursing school, fenced in the hospital, trained anesthesiologists (thanks, Mase), started branch Sabbath Schools, among other things. And if we leave, what happens? Odei is a kind doctor. Samedi is a natural surgeon. Antoine is an honest administrator. Ndilbe runs an operating room like no other. Jonathan and Sabine get it on pediatrics. Baikao gets it on maternity. Bernard understands post-op wards. Dainone is one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. We’ve trained people the best we can.

Medically, the quality of care wouldn’t drop too much. Danae can definitely do things no nurse can. Rollin can do surgeries nobody else has business even looking at. But we’d still be above-average. We would no longer be known as the hospital with the foreign doctors and our patient census would drop significantly. We would need to lay off staff. We would need to shut off the generator at night.

And there are vultures. They came the same day they saw twenty Americans leave town. Fortunately, they see me still here and they leave. But the moment I leave, it will be over. People with unkind and selfish ambition would be here to take what they could. And it’s not as easy for somebody to say no in this culture as you might think.

So yeah, I provide a little medical advice. The day before flying out, Danae spent over $6000 on an ultrasound machine and sent it to me. I can do that when Doudje is gone. I can do rounds. No biggie. I can do procedures. I can do consults. And I provide my typical limited administrative guidance. Do this. Don’t do this. But mostly, I’m here as deterrent. A big billboard that there is not yet any carrion here for you to be picking the scraps off of.

In terms of the danger, the security notice stated there are no specific threats. And legally, the embassy cannot allow their personnel to leave based on information that isn’t public. And legally, if there’s information that puts my life in danger, they are required to inform me. There are rumors the president’s health is flagging, but he was supposedly out and about during the Muslim holiday Tabaski last Thursday. There are rumors Libya is mounting a force in the desert mountains to the north. Or take your pick of rebel rumors. Take your pick of Boko Haram rumors. The rains came in late this year, but they came. There was worry of drought and famine, but it would seem we now have enough rain. The global price drop in gas means it’s no longer profitable for foreign companies to come in and export oil. So the government is no longer making any money. And they are fighting a very expensive war against Boko Haram. And they are telling government employees they will need to take pay cuts, which has never been an acceptable statement in the history of francophone culture. So there is set-up for badness. But there really isn’t anything concrete. The missionaries from other denominations are not leaving. The other embassies aren’t issues evacuation warnings.

James and I still feel perfectly safe. Nothing seems different from a few months ago. I spoke with the governor and with the Minister of Security. They said all was well. All our local authorities know what’s going on and nobody can figure out why the State Department put out their warning. The rumor is the embassy families had such restricted movements in the capital that they requested permission to leave. And when the State Department granted permission, they threw in a line about recommending all Americans leave, a statement they can’t quickly go back on and a statement the embassy seems frankly embarrassed about.

So I stay. We have a trigger word. I have a computer bag packed to throw over my bag and walk out the door at any time with five seconds’ notice (unless I have to rinse the shampoo out of my hair). I have all vehicles and motorcycles full of fuel. I know the way to the N’Djamena airport, the Moundou airport, the dirt strip and Cameroon. Honestly, safest route is probably to stay put. And by far the most likely thing is nothing happens.

But if it does, I will leave.

But understand, if I am evacuated without plans to return, Danae and I are not walking away from our earthly belongings in our house about to be mowed down by a forest fire where we can buy another house a little distance away. We are not walking away from our dogs. We are not walking away from our friends. We are not walking away from our memories. We are not walking away from colleagues. We are not walking away from our local church. We are not walking away from the familiar. We are not walking away from our hospital. We are not walking away from our jobs. We are not walking away from our mission.

We are walking away from our identities.

We are walking away from our lives.

With nothing but our family and the suitcase of clothes Danae took back to America.

I know you’re well-intentioned. But don’t judge me. That’s not what I need to hear right now.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Arresting Development

So yesterday I did an ultrasound on a Muslim patient who hadnt had a period for three years. She came from several hours away with her mother to figure out why she hadnt had a period in three years.

I did the ultrasound and then turned to her and her mother. Alhamdullilah! Praise Good God, youre pregnant! Just past 27 weeks! I dont know why you were having issues with your periods, but this baby has a solid heartbeat and is moving around. Everything looks perfect! Congratulations!

Neither one of them seemed terribly excited, or even convinced. She did seem a little under the weather and had a fever and positive malaria test. She also reported a little burning when she peed. I decided to admit her overnight for some IV therapy.

Today on rounds, I repeated this was the miracle momma, being six months pregnant after no period for three years! Still no smile.

After rounds, the mother of the patient asked to see me in private. I joked with her, Well, my wife wouldnt like me going into a room alone with another woman.(This woman was old. I figured this was an obvious joke.)

She assured me that my nurse could accompany us and asked repeatedly that I pardon her for the intrusion. I assured her right back that there was no intrusion at all and Id be happy to talk to her. Didnt really matter medically, but I was curious to find out why they werent happier about the pregnancy.

Once in a vacant delivery room, the mother started by asking me to pardon her over and over again. I told her I pardoned her, but Id prefer to know what exactly I was pardoning her from. Explain.

She told me her daughter was beat up by her husband three years ago, when the periods stopped. The patients father then repaid the husband the dowry to buy his daughters freedom.

Could this be the ex-husbands baby?

I told her, yes, it absolutely could be the ex-husbands baby! But not from three years ago. She got pregnant sometime about six months ago.

The mother told me it was impossible for her daughter to have gotten pregnant six months ago, as she hadnt had a period in three years.

I agreed with her that it was odd, but still possible she had that solitary ovulation and got pregnant. I wondered, How do you know your daughter wasnt having her periods?

Well, in our family, if you have your period, you need to eat by yourself. She eats with us every day.

Oh, I see. Scientific-like.

The mother continued, Also, she says she hasnt been having sex with anybody. How is this possible?

Well, both the Quran and the Bible are in agreement Mary was a virgin when Jesus was born. So theres been at least one case study. Nobody here owns a toilet seat or a swimming pool, so you cant use that excuse.

Its medically impossible.

In our family, we all marry within the family.

Well, maybe shes back with the husband, or a family member thats too close, or somebody outside the family, or maybe a Christian, or who knows. But its highly likely she has had sex with somebody in the last year. I can put the odds of that pretty high.

Pardon, pardon, pardon, doctor. Ill pay any amount. We cant go back to our village with her. If they find her pregnant without a husband…”

Oh, boy. I cut her short. Im sorry. Abortions are illegal in Tchad. And while theyre legal in America, we still dont do them unless theres a risk to the mothers life.After a very short reflection, I added, Unless theres a medical risk to the mothers life.

No, no, doctor! I would never want an abortion! Thats sin! I just want you to give her a medicine that will stop the pregnancy for a short time. Then after we can marry her to somebody, then she can stop the medicine and the pregnancy can continue.

Um, even in America, that doesnt exist.

Ok, what about a cream or something you can smear on her belly to make it look smaller.

I assure you, if I had such a cream, Id go to America and be a billionaire.

She was definitely non-plussed.

I went on. Im sorry, but I dont know of any means to stop her from delivering a healthy baby in a few monthstime. Even if she delivered now, some babies at this age survive. If shes going to be killed by her family in three months for having a baby, we can hide you here in the hospital for three months. We can call your family and say she has a medical condition that will take three months to treat. After delivery, I can find a couple looking to adopt. We have so many couples with infertility who are wonderful people and desperately want a baby. I could find a very nice couple, Muslim or Christian, whatever you want.

The mother opposed. No, our family will come. Everybody knows our family. Eventually somebody would see her with a large belly and would discover her.

We sat in silence for a minute while I thought of what else I could offer her. I quoted her the Quran, 
God knows what every womb bears, by how much they fall short of their time or number or do exceed. Every single thing is before his sight, in due proportion.
He knows the Unseen and that which is open: He is the Great, the most High.

She nodded her head in agreement. I wasnt really sure what that meant, because there wasnt much counsel in it, just comfort, or at least I hoped comfort. Reminder that there was a greater plan.

The grandmother-to-be decided. Can you discharge us? Ive heard of a Marabout (witch doctor) past NDjamena who will either be able to suspend the growth of the baby for a time until she finds a husband or who can smear a cream on her belly to shrink it.

Sounds reasonable. Ok, but if that doesnt work, you always have an open invitation to come hide here and we can find an adopting couple.

No. If he cant do it, I will travel the entire country until I find somebody who can.

Ok, but travel quickly. Shes gonna be mighty large in a few weekstime.

We had a most amicable parting. Walking away, I just shook my head. Five years ago, this would have deeply shaken me. NowJust another day at the office. Just another prayer whos end result Id never know.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015


Enemies are scary. Kinda by definition. Youre supposed to shoot them. Or something. Who are your enemies? Who are ours? Who are mine? Stop and think. Start naming our enemies. Do you have enemies in mind? You need to get one before you continue!!! Think of one! Ok, now go on.

Well, back in the Old Testament, the Children of Israel had enemies. A lot of them. But those closest to us can always hurt us the worst. Ive had some fun lately digging into some Old Testament history.

About 1400 B.C., Joshua dies (unsurprisingly at the end of the book of Joshua). After that, Gideon lays the smack down on some Midianites (in Judges, its such a sweet story, too bad its really unrelated to this one) and then Eli, the high priest, leaves Mosesdesert tabernacle on Mount Gerizim and builds a second one under his rule among the hills of Shiloh (1 Samuel), somewhere around 1100 B.C. The folks still back on Mount Gerizim feel this creates an illegitimate priesthood and a bogus tabernacle. And the folks at Shiloh harbor some ill will toward the old farts back on Gerizim.

Now do you remember the time in the Old Testament when Israel split into the northern and southern kingdoms in 931 B.C.? Well, this was pretty much the cause of it. Saul and David and Solomon did an admirable job trying to keep the kingdom together. But still, the guys in the north really didnt like the temple in Jerusalem. It couldnt be held together any more. The north was quite adamant God was high atop Mount Gerizim. So there. Okay, fine then. The south said the north was full of heretics, practicing idolatry up there in them thar hills far away from Jerusalem. Civil war ensued. The TEN tribes in the north kept the name Israel. The TWO tribes in the south took on the name Judah.

Then the feud got exceptionally nasty around 722 B.C., when Sargon II from Assyria conquered the northern kingdom. Skipping ahead to 2 Kings 17, Sargon II decides to take a pass on going after Judah in the south, and contents himself in bringing all his POWs from Israel back to Assyria. But they didnt stay in Assyria. This Sargon cat was wicked smart. And mean. He split all the Israelites up and dissipated them out to the farthest-flung provinces of his empire, essentially shattering any chance they had at maintaining a sense of culture and heritage. These became lamented as the Ten Lost Tribes, one of historys most affective, thorough, mysterious and amazing disappearing acts.

Shortly thereafter, those in the southern kingdom (Judah) essentially suffered the same, if somewhat delayed, fate. The north had prophets warning them (Amos and Hosea) as did the south (Joel, Isaiah, Micah, Zephaniah, Jeremiah who recorded the norths demise and predicted the souths, Habakkuk and whichever lugubrious soul wrote Lamentations, probably also Jeremiah), before the south got nailed about 136 years after the north in 586 B.C.

A couple hundred years after the north was taken and just a bit after the south was taken, Ezra, and then Nehemiah, return home to Israel/Judah, only to realize it appears Sargon the Deuce and his successors did the same thing to others, taking non-Jewish POWs from his other wars and scattering them all over the place too, including old Israel/Judah. Now in Israel/Judah those returning from exile find their ancient lands occupied by these apparent squatters. The returning exiles were appalled such a ragtag group of imposters would dare call themselves Jews! And the squatters were downright livid the exiles didnt recognize their inherent Jewish-ness.

The posers claimed to be the remnant, the group Sargon II missed when he carried off the POWs, descended a couple hundred years. They claimed to be the ethnically intact and pure Jewry. And argued the returning exiles had been defiled, lost their pure blood and pure religion to their slavery and mixed-breeding. Wait, no! The ragtags that were sent to occupy Israel by Sargon II were the mixed-breeds!!! Oh, boy.

Well, the Talmud, the renowned historian Josephus and 2 Kings all seem to support the claim that Sargon II did indeed send a diverse and piecemeal bunch of pagans to repopulate Israel. In fact, 2 Kings goes into some detail, explaining how the pagans begged Sargon II to send back a Jewish priest to teach them the religion of the land when lions started snacking on them. And wouldnt stop. 2 Kings even goes into the details of where these squatters were sent from, and its a long list of various towns.

But as you would expect, they just mixed Yahweh in with their own gods to form a witchesbrew of half-baked heretical beliefs and erected altars and statues to such in the temples of this abandoned Israel. 2 Kings even goes into specifics such as child sacrifices and other unpleasantries. If you read the end of the chapter, you can even sense the ill will Jeremiah had toward them, that their children and childrens children kept up these ugly practices, even to this day.

So when Ezra and Nehemiah get back and want to rebuild the temple, these half-bred heretics come and welcome them home like long-lost brothers and offer to help them rebuild. Well, they dont even look like theyre the same ethnicity, let alone speak the same language. Ezra tells them thanks, but no thanks. Except hes not that nice. In his own book (Ezra 4), he describes the squatters as the adversaries of Judah, even though theyve been the stewards of the land for the last 200 years, feeling like theyve been practicing good Jewiness and probably using words like Jewinesson accident, and offering to help rebuild the temple. Ezra says, You may do NOTHING with us!Well thats not very neighborly.

So the squatters got pissed. They started writing letters to the new king, Cyrus at that time, then Darius later, just trying to give the returned exiles trouble. The squatters developed a sense of freedom fighters against a much larger group of occupiers who sought to disband them.

Despite the opposition, the returned exiles eventually rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem. The two groups, both claiming to be the true Jews and accusing the others of being fake and corrupted Jews, settle into this enduring enmity. The squatter Jews who are accused of not being true ethnic Jews and mixing religion, retreat up to the northern kingdom of Israel and Mount Gerizim, the site of the original and true temple. The returning exiles, accused of being corrupted and outbred while in exile without organized religion and study and worship and community, settle toward the south and Jerusalem, Judah. Whoa.

Thats not the end, though. The apogee came in 167 B.C. after Alexander the Great swept through with Hellenistic culture. The Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes ruled over the Jews. The dude proclaimed himself to be the incarnation of Zeus and condemned to death anybody refusing to worship him. Thats just harsh.

Well, the savvy mixed-breeds in the north decided they could accommodate. They would allow Antiochus to dedicate their temple up on Mount Gerizim to Zeus, and get this, somehow the north allowed Antiochus to erect an altar to Zeus in Jerusalem, in the south. Antiochus sacrificed a pig there, pretty much biggest heresy somebody could do. This became known as the abomination of desolation, which sounds impressive and important. Antiochussuccessor even leveled the temple on Mount Gerizim in 128 B.C.

But under the Romans, the temple was rebuilt and the group became a large and established community occupying a sizable chunk of land between Judea and Galilee. 

Do you know who these people were?

These were none other than the Samaritans. They even got the name clear back in 1 Kings 21.

Yup, thats right. These bastard displaced persons during the exile who dared to ask if they could help rebuild the temple and finally withdrew to Mount Gerizim, the site of the original Jewish temple to Yahweh, these are the Samaritans.

So there you had it. Jesus came along at a time when the mainstream Jews were in Judea to the south and Galilee in the north. Samaritans were sandwiched between the two groups. And they were hated. I mean hated. They were openly cursed in synagogues. They werent allowed to be witnesses in courts! Imagine, somebody could lodge a claim against you and you couldnt even call a witness! In fact, get this, Samaritans were not even allowed to convert to Judaism!!! Hows that for evangelism! The official Jewish position was that no Samaritan could ever achieve any sort of afterlife.

Jews typically would cross the Jordan when traveling between the lands of Judea and Galilee just to avoid Samaria. After all, it could defile your holiness! You wanna start a fight, call a Jew a Samaritan and just see what happens! They were a spiritual brand of lepers, avoided at all costs, vocally condemned, and preferably struck with rocks should you unfortunately cross paths with one at an intersection. Idolaters worthy of death.

They were openly counted as enemies. Archenemies if ever there were. Centuries of bad, bad blood.

Lets jump to Luke 10:25. And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?

He said to him, What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?

So he answered and said, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,and your neighbor as yourself.’”

And He said to him, You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.”’

Okay, cool. Love God. Love neighbors. Im down with that. Hang on

But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, And who is my neighbor?”’

Then Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan.

In the Good Samaritan, the Jew gets beat up and the holy priest and Levite pass him up, while the Samaritan helps him out. So Jesus says the Good Samaritan is the neighbor.

Yeah, I get that.

Wait. No. You mean

So what youre saying is


We just said, Love your neighbor as yourself.

Then we said, The Samaritan was the Jews neighbor in the story.

I studied math. If A = B, and B = C, then that means A = C.

So, that means Im supposed to love the Samaritan as myself?

Im supposed to love my ARCHENEMY as I love myself?!?!?!?

Surely you dont mean that. Dude, this is complicated. Theres a loophole, right? Its a parable, right? Theres wiggle room here, right? No?

Jesus traveled frequently through Samaria, refusing to traverse the Jordan River to avoid them. On one of those trips, he met the woman at the well. He asked her for water and she responded what the what? You know, right, Im a Samaritan? Youre in Samaria. You know that, right? And you are aware youre Jewish? Youre not even supposed to be stooping to speak to me. You want to drink water I give you?

And then Jesus does some craziness. He tells her she can have eternal life. Thats so a no-no for a Jew to think a Samaritan can get in on that! Not cool, Jesus!

It goes on. The woman tells him, Jesus, you know, right, that our fathers worshiped on this Mount Gerizim and you Jews say that people should worship in Jerusalem.

Are you kidding me??? This woman is rehashing the 1100-year-old debate?!?!??! Really?!??! She still knows 1100 years later what causing this divide! How messed up is that? Which mountain we can worship our omnipotent, omniscient and OMNIPRESENT God on?

But check it out, shes ahead of the Jews. She goes on to recognize, I know that Messiah is coming. When He comes, He will tell us all things.Hell sort this big mess out between us. No worries.

Jesus responds, Yup. You got it. Thats me. Guilty as charged.

Wait, youre the one to sort out the divide between us?

At this point, the disciples return from town and start straight trippinseeing Jesus chatting up a Samaritan woman. The woman walks into town and brings out a bunch of men, saying, Come see this dude! Could this guy be the Christ?

Then the Samaritans invited Jesus to stay and teach them. And Jesus stayed days with them. Amazing.

Even after the resurrection, Jesus still has his mind on the Samaritans. In Acts 1:8, the very verse before His ascension to Heaven, Jesuslast words were, You shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.Dude specifically mentions Samaria. This guy for sure practices what He preaches.

And you can go on to read Acts 8, 9, 15, etc, where the disciples go ahead and witness to the Samaritans! Philip, Peter and John came and laid hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. Saul, Paul and Barnabas all pay visits to Samaria too.

You know, when you really boil down Jesuslife, you could make a reasonable argument that Jesus died for preaching the message Love Your Enemy. Very unpopular in Jesustime. Hmmyou know what? Its actually a very unpopular message today. You say its easy? We all buy into it? We say we do. What would our lives actually look like if we genuinely bought into this principal. Its powerful.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Gandhi. They pretty much both died for this message.

Its a scary message. It could change the world.

What would be different if you could just Love Your Enemy?

Imagine. Imagine specifically. What was the enemy you thought about in the first paragraph? Do you think God gives you an out so you dont really need to love that enemy as you love yourself? How would you behave differently, what would be different, if you loved that enemy as you love yourself?

Love Your Enemy. No exceptions. Imagine. Jesus felt it was worth dying for. Do you?