Monday, December 21, 2015

I Love My Job

Something very, very good happened this year. Boko Haram set off a whole bunch of bombs in the capital of Tchad and launched many lethal raids in the north of the country, making it a deadlier terrorist group than ISIS/ISIL in 2015. Well, that’s not the good part. Our church forced us to evacuate the country, with the exception I could stay back on my own (not entirely true, James was in Moundou), if I acknowledged the risk I might not be evacuateable later if things were to deteriorate in the country further. Well, that’s still not the good part. Hang on.

Danae and the kids left Tchad not knowing if they would ever be able to return. And the thought of that shook us to our cores. It brought us to tears.

And that was something very, very good.

You see, we celebrated five years of service to Tchad December 12. Tchad is a hard place. There’s no entertainment. You’re constantly ill. You hear nonstop criticism you aren’t a good parent. The food is terrible. The quality of medicine is horrifying (which is even more depressing, since WE’RE the ones providing the bad care). We live life always on the knife edge of burnout. And the culture runs about 180 degrees contrary to American culture. At five years, we are already the second-longest tenured missionaries to Tchad, behind the Appels. And we had begun to wonder if our time was up.

We had accomplished so much in Bere. So much. And it took so much energy. And we had aged so much in five years. Perhaps it was time to step aside and let some young energetic bucks (and does, perhaps) with new vision and fresh ideas come in to take Bere to the next level. Maybe it was time for us to start a new chapter of our lives. And time for Bere to start its own chapter.

But now, being forced out, against our will, with so much left unfinished, and nobody ready to come in and take charge and finish it… It just didn’t feel right. Maybe we did have a little left in the tank. Maybe we had a lot. Maybe we weren’t done. Maybe we weren’t being called home. This just did NOT feel right. We still have more to give. We aren’t ready to throw in the towel and call it quits.

And so we prayed. We didn’t pray for somebody to come take our place. We prayed we could come back.

And after five weeks alone in Tchad, the Blands and Zach were allowed back to Bere, and I went to America to join my family and have a baby. (Well, technically, my wife had the baby. But I was in the room. That’s worth something, I’m pretty sure.)

January 18, we will be returning to Tchad. We will be going home. We will be going where we were called, and where we are still called to. And we are happy and excited about it. Our children are eager to return to their 80 square foot bedroom where all three (now four!) of them sleep together with two dogs and however many cats show up. The familiarity of their mosquito nets. The rice and beans, beans and rice. The 90 degree mornings and 110 degree afternoons. The ironically cold showers.

And that is something very, very good.

My kids’ friends are there. Their books are there. Their toys are there. My friends are there. My work is there. My calling is there.

And that is something very, very good.

We will go back. And we will do what we do best. We will try. And then we will do what we do second-best. We will fail.

We will try to offer the very best medical care to each patient who darkens our door. And we will fail. From lack of medicines to lack of blood donors to lack of medical equipment to lack of money to lack of expertise and yes, even for lack of energy sometimes. And perhaps occasionally even for lack of compassion. We will fail. I can promise it. But we will try again with the next patient. I can promise that too.

We will try to be the best spouses and parents and neighbors we can be. And we will fail. But we will try afresh each new day.

We will try to be the best preceptors we can be to the nurses and students and physicians who come by. But we will fail. It could be for lack of time or lack of knowledge or something else. But we will fail. And we will try again.

We will try to reflect the image of Christ all day every day. And you know how that will turn out. We won’t be anywhere close. But we will try again.

And we will try our hardest to love everybody we come across as best we can. And we will fail, I can assure you. We are no better at it than you are. But, just like you, we will try again with the next person we meet.

And that is something very, very good.

Perhaps you are an educator. I’d like to remind you we are sending 17 Tchadians to medical school and nursing school, both undergraduate and masters. I’d like to remind you we are in the middle of the very costly process of opening a nursing school. I’d like to remind you we also support the local primary and secondary school. None of this would happen if AHI wasn’t here doing it. This is very, very good.

Perhaps you are in public health. I’d like to remind you we have a massive public health project for the entire district of 200,000 people. We educate and treat. We provide a health education from safe sex to tuberculosis to hand hygiene to nutrition and everything in between. We provide deworming medicine for the entire district and we operate mobile clinics to find the sick where they are. We operate a nutrition center, giving healthy food to children and education to their mothers. None of this would happen if Zach Gately and AHI weren’t here doing it. This is very, very good.

Perhaps you are in the medical field. I’d like to remind you we will probably end up treating around 20,000 unique patients this year at our little bush hospital 25 miles from the nearest pavement. We will probably have operated on around 1200 patients this year, ranging from 17.4kg ovarian masses to around a dozen vaginal fistula patients to nephrectomies to goiters to amputations. We have treated patients from Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Sudan, Libya, Egypt, Tunisia, as well as many foreign workers in the country from Asia, Europe, South and Central America, and North America, all who bypass many other hospitals to get to us. Furthermore, we provide obstetrical care for free, performing all vaginal and Cesarean deliveries without cost to the patient. We treat many children for free. And we treat all urgent cases for free. We are improving the structure of our hospital to provide better care to more patients with a new maternity ward, two new operating rooms, a new lab, a new cashier’s office, a new pharmacy, a new dental clinic, a new ophthalmology clinic and a new public health clinic. We have implemented the very first electronic medical record in the country. We have computerized all our financial transactions. And none of this would happen if AHI wasn’t here doing it. This is very, very good.

Perhaps you are in the field of evangelism. I’d like to remind you the missionaries in Bere operate no less than seven Sabbath Schools every single week, often a single missionary doing multiple Sabbath Schools each Sabbath, and occasionally running Wednesday night prayer meeting as well. This is very, very good.

And perhaps you’re my favorite type of person. Perhaps you’re just in the simple business of loving people. It’s not so simple, is it? Well, that’s exactly what we do. Or at least what we try to do. Like you, we fail and we fail with regularity. But we keep on trying. And who would love the people of Bere if it weren’t for us? Who specifically? Who would love the people of Tchad if it weren’t for the missionaries? Who would show them there is a world that cares? Is there a world that cares? I’d like to think that so long as we’re breathing, there will be a world that cares. And that is very, very good.

We live in a 65% Muslim country. We live in a country frequently attacked by the most deadly terror organization in the world, Boko Haram. I don’t know what your opinions are regarding Muslims or Islam or refugees. But I know they are people. I know they are not monsters. They are my patients. They are my employees. They are my colleagues. And they are my dearest friends. And I love them.

Regardless of whether or not you want them in America, they are human beings, created by God, of equal worth to Him as myself, my wife and my children. I am no more human than they. I am no better human than they. They deserve medical care. I provide it. The best care we have. Free to the extent we can afford.

If you don’t want them in America, then help us go to them. Help us love them. In a nerve-wracking time, it’s the best hope we have.

My job is to love.

And I love my job.

And that is very, very good.

If you want to be a part of what we do, there are many ways to help:

1. Pray. We take this seriously.

2. Come live and love with us. It’s not easy. It’s not comfortable. It is downright scary at times. You will get sick. You will hear of terrorism. You will live your life miles beyond the outermost fringes of your comfort zone. And at the end of it all, you will have a story to tell, a worldview drastically and permanently altered, and a heart full of memories and gratitude.

3. Give. If you trust us with your hard-earned money, great. If not, find a worthy organization you do trust and give to the point you feel it. It’s hard to imagine you’ll regret it.

We function thanks to the intervention of Adventist Health International ( 100% of your donation comes directly to us, where we use it for training Tchadians, building a nursing school, construction, deworming and other public health projects and so many other things. I personally am responsible for 100% of the money that is given. In the upper right of our blog, is a link marked ‘DONATION’. Just click the link and it will explain to you how to give. You can pay by PayPal, check, money order, credit card, one-time, ongoing, etc. You can send mail, email, you can call, whatever. Just send a note along saying it’s for ‘Bere’.

And it is tax-deductible, should that be something which will interest you come April 15.

Also, if you’re like my wife, you’ve been quite busy this month with Amazon. If you shop, you can choose your preferred charity as Adventist Health International and 0.5% of what you spend goes to AHI, although not specifically for Bere.

Email us any question, concerns or encouragements you may have.

909-558-4540 or
Adventist Health International
11060 Anderson Street

Loma Linda, CA 92350

Monday, December 14, 2015

2015 Year-In-Review

Year-End Wrap

Well, it’s December, time for a little 2015 year-in-review.

We kicked off January, our busiest time of year, with the implementation of an electronic medical record. I think I have a whole separate blog about this, but it’s truly incredible. Thanks to several volunteers (Dirk Wunderlich, Zachri Jensen and Adrian Sarli, and a few others too), we took our hospital from majority-of-employees-have-never-touched-a-computer to 100% implementation of an electronic medical record of orders of all medications, lab tests, imaging and surgery in less than two months. We currently track all inventory and most finances with it. We have discovered stealing in the pharmacy with this system and have fired the responsible parties. The simple fact this exists in a place where no school has a computer, where there is no library, where we are 25 miles from pavement, where there is no electric grid besides our generator, where nobody has running water in their home… It’s absolutely amazing. We even use our new network to broadcast evangelistic videos to our patients (and neighbors!) in our waiting area. And it never would have happened without Dirk and Zachri. (And it wouldn’t have gotten to the next level without Adrian.) 

Which brings us to the medical stuff. We will probably have registered 18,000 patients into our electronic medical record system by December 31. We started on January 24, our busiest time, so we will have seen close to 20,000 unique patients in a year. This is a testament to our volunteers, our support, our staff, and our God. We wish you could see the patients we treat every day. I promise volunteers they will see something new every single day they are here. Probably one of the coolest this year was a 17.4kg ovary Danae and Rollin removed. Amazing. We have a blog post on that too!

We are also actively involved in public health, thanks to Charis McClarty, who is no longer with us (She’s not dead, just her time had come. Well, that doesn’t sound better. Her term was up. She’s healthy in America. Don’t worry.) and Zach Gately, who’s still with us (He’s alive too.). These two were/are amazing. They expanded Project 21 from being the 21 neighborhoods of Bere to being the entire 200,000 habitant district of Bere! They take motorcycles out to all the surrounding villages and putting on health lectures. They are also pulling teeth and… There’s just no way I can tell you all of it. It’s an overwhelming list. One of the coolest things they do in my opinion is arrange mobile clinics. We load up the truck with nurses and go out into the villages. It’s insane how many people show up, a total zoo. We will consult on hundreds of patients in a couple hours, until it’s too dark to continue. We will take the ultrasound and do those for free. We refer patients to the local health center for their medications. And we take the acute cases back home. It’s so cool, I just can’t describe it. The last one I went on, I jumped into the back of the truck and all the kids (and adults) came around and we had a quiz on Genesis. It’s really neat because the Muslims have essentially the same knowledge of the book of Genesis (even including the genealogy of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph). We also received a donation of Albendazole, a deworming medication. We paid a couple thousand dollars for the import tax and received millions of pills (literally). We have dewormed all the schools in the district and pass them out for free at all the mobile clinics. We hope to soon give them out for free at all the churches and mosques too. When the government came through our district and did their studies looking for worms, we were the only district in the country where they found none of the typical worms!!! The local authorities give us credit for that. And we give you credit for that.

Along the lines of public service, in partnership with Restore a Child, we have also started projects to raise goats and chickens for patients and their families and the community. To be honest, it fed a few and then petered out, mostly because we didn’t have anybody reliable to oversee the project. Also, we had a bird flu of some sort take out the chickens. There are still some goats alive and reproducing, but we honestly don’t have the infrastructure to ensure it continues its success. We did plant a bunch of trees. Some died and some are growing slowly. Some trees Maranatha had planted earlier are already giving papayas and guavas and mangos and peanuts and corn and other things. It’s really fun to walk over to the pediatric ward and hand out these foods to the hospitalized children! I wish you could be here to see the gratefulness!

Our public health branch is also operating the nutrition center. Thanks to the services of Zach and Charis and the Macombers and Mike and Chris, the nutrition center was able to serve loads of kids. Unfortunately, we will be losing Mike and Chris, the real leaders who went to visit these kids in their home villages and changed entire families. They will be missed by us and by the people they serve. That’s a couple with huge hearts.

Around the hospital, we have slowly continued our construction. We’re still really hurting from Jamie’s absence. God and family called the Parkers back to America last year and boy are we missing ! But we creep along. We have slowly put walls up in our new buildings, as well as doors and layers of paint, thanks to your generosity and the labor of some volunteers (Thanks, Miki!).

We trained four nurses in anesthesia this year. I say we, but it was really Mason. Unfortunately, we lost the Mason and his family this year too. Real life called them back to America, but their hearts will always be for missions, no matter where they are. The number of people they touched in just over a year is extraordinary. Their stay here with us was also funded by donations. Donor money is responsible for four well-trained anesthetists covering two (and soon to be three) hospitals in Tchad, providing much safer surgical care.

Speaking of training, donors have sent 17 students to training last year. Three are in Master’s of Nursing programs. Three are in medical school (and a fourth and fifth are approved). The balance are in nursing school. And speaking of nursing school, we are hoping our nursing school can be opened this next year. We would still ideally have a Francophone nurse practitioner to head it up, but we will work with who we have. There is really only one quality nursing school in Tchad, and it simply cannot generate enough graduates to keep up with demand in the country. This will be the big game-changer. And eventually we see it branching out to offer anesthesia and midwifery training, as well as other specialties.

I also had the opportunity to visit a lot of our sister hospitals and clinics in Cameroon, and the nursing school there too. Boy, were they ever inspirational. Great stuff is going on in the world and it’s so thrilling to be a small part of it.

Our biggest reason for existing is showing the world the love of our God. And we try to be active in that too. The Adventist volunteers in Bere are operating nine Sabbath Schools. This takes a lot of energy. Many people do two Sabbath Schools each Sabbath. Motorcycling on the edge of the Sahel to tell people about Jesus is really exciting stuff, and even though we are tired, it’s usually the highlight of our week. Telling Bible stories, singing and dancing, high-fiving. It’s just awesome. Something everybody should be able to experience. And perhaps the most exciting part is we have some local Adventists who go with us and can tell the Bible stories in the native tongue without translation. In fact, often they will go out by themselves on Sabbath, and even during the week, to tell these Bible stories and sing these songs about God. All we do is loan them the motorcycle. It’s really exciting when the Muslims stop by and realize how many of the same Bible stories we share!

The year hasn’t been entirely without challenges. We have had many bombings in Tchad, thanks to our local terrorist group, Boko Haram. They don’t get as much publicity, but Boko Haram has actually killed more people this year than ISIS/ISIL. This causes much angst among our family and friends. Which kinda does make us feel loved and cared for. However, Boko Haram headquarters is quite a ways away. They would need to cross multiple borders and police checkpoints to get to us. So far, all their strikes have been in the capital, 6-8 hours north of us, or in the lake region, which is even farther still. While it’s true somebody could come and kill us, I think recent events in America have shown us that can happen anywhere. The only way to truly be safe, is to be where God wants you. And we feel very strongly God still wants us in Tchad.

There was a stretch, however, that had us questioning that. In early September, the American State Department put out a warning encouraging all Americans to evacuate the country. We decided to comply with the state department and the General Conference and evacuated everyone but myself and James Appel, who would keep the Adventist Surgical Center of Moundou running. Finally, in mid October, it was agreed that necessary personnel could return. The very next week, Rollin and Dolores came back to Bere so I could head back to America for…


We have a new BABY!!! November 8, Juniper Belle Netteburg was born.

And that makes 2015, a VERY good year.

(What follows are a TON of pictures from 2015. People who have been to Bere might recognize some places and faces of locals and volunteers. All these pictures are incredibly self-indulgent. But you know what? It's my blog and I can do what I want!)

(Second parenthetical remark: The photos at the end of Juniper were taken by an incredible photographer Denise Feagans. Checker her out at