Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas 2015

Nampula Orphanage Kids

Thank you to the ladies at Grace Bible Chapel in San Antonio, Texas for sending such wonderful Christmas presents to the children in our Nampula orphanage this year! The kids look forward to Christmas all year. Besides the excitement that presents bring, they are always deeply touched knowing that there are people on the other side of the world who care about them enough to send them gifts. Thank you for sharing God's love in a way that is so tangible for children!

Cuamba Kids

And thank you to the ladies in my Charleston Bible Study Fellowship group who got Christmas presents for our Cuamba kids at the last minute! Our Cuamba children have never received gifts before and they couldn't believe it! Thank you so much for making it such a special day for them! They love their presents!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Surviving a Medical Nightmare in Mozambique

Almost two decades ago Victor noticed a little girl at church who prayed in a way that was mature and profound beyond her years. He talked to her parents and told them that if she ever wanted to get into the ministry when she got older, he could help her go to Bible school.

I met Marta during her last year in Bible school when I first visited Mozambique in 2007.  A few months later she had graduated and joined the staff at the orphanage. Over the next few years I came to love Marta, and she has been a good and easy friend ever since. Marta loves God, loves people, is always smiling or laughing, and is kind and gentle with the kids. She serves them meals, leads Bible study, mentors the girls, serves in the church, and has an open house where any kid can hang out. In Mozambique it is a compliment to call someone “simple” because it means they are not complicated, high maintenance or needy. Marta is “simple” in all the best ways.

For years we had been praying for another couple on staff. It is valuable to have staff members who are in all stages of life since older and younger people have different things to offer the kids. Most of our staff are young people in their 20’s with great energy and enthusiasm, but not yet in a position to model how to interact in a marriage or as a parent or person who has weathered years of life experience. As we prayed for a couple, we imagined older people - but soon a young man came onto our staff who had also grown up in the same church and had known Marta since they were children.

Silmone and Marta were a perfect match. Silmone is patient, humble, gentle, kind, dedicated, responsible, and exceptionally trustworthy. Just like Marta, he is usually smiling and extremely pleasant to be around. Soon Marta and Silmone were married and living in a little round house about ten feet from ours in the middle of the orphanage. Every evening they would sit side by side in the front doorway of their house…smiling, relaxed, and watching the kids play soccer. Younger children would always come and sit with them and it made everyone feel safe and secure and “normal” and happy to have them there like that.

One day about two years before Marta was married, she experienced a pain in her stomach so agonizing that she collapsed onto the ground and had to be rushed to the hospital. Mozambique has some hard-working, dedicated, and intelligent doctors who have saved countless lives. But this country has an insane patient to doctor (or even nurse) ratio, and even the best private clinics (not to mention public hospitals) lack well-trained personnel, technology, critical equipment, and even the most basic things like soap, toilet paper, and latex gloves. Because of this, you often feel that entering a hospital is more dangerous to your health than whatever problem you have that might kill you.

At the hospital they suspected that Marta had an intestinal obstruction and needed surgery to clear the block. Needing a surgery with the current hospital conditions is terrifying, and there is often little hope that a person will survive. No matter how urgent the situation is, the hospital will not begin the operation until you bring a friend to donate blood, which is how they maintain any blood supply. Daniel, a young man on our staff who had grown up in the orphanage, rushed to the hospital and donated his blood so that they could operate on Marta in time. The whole orphanage prayed that she would not die in surgery. God answered the prayers of His children and Marta survived. But the surgery had been botched, and as she was traumatized and forced to return to the hospital again and again, the problem became worse and worse.

A few months later when Victor and I were in the U.S., Marta again collapsed to the ground in agonizing pain. A Brazilian missionary friend rushed her to the hospital. According to a Public Radio International article from April of this year, there are only about 20 practicing surgeons in Mozambique, which has a population of almost 26 million people. In order to be one of the people seen by a surgeon you will need to pay a huge bribe or have a strong and aggressive advocate with the hand of God on your side. Our Brazilian missionary friend advocated, and Marta got and survived a second surgery. This time the doctor told Marta that if this were to happen again they would not be able to fix it a third time, and she would die. They told her that she could never get pregnant because this issue would kill her if she did.

Two years ago Marta did get pregnant. Everyone was excited, but in the back of our minds we remembered what the doctor had warned. We all prayed that Marta would be able to have the baby without anything going wrong with this sensitive medical condition.

But when Marta was six months pregnant, our worst fears happened and she again collapsed in agonizing pain due to the same intestinal issue. She was rushed to the hospital and everyone prayed again.

At first the hospital acted like Marta’s situation was a hopeless case and there was no movement toward helping her. The hospital is overcrowded with people who all have emergencies, and no one will be seen unless someone takes extraordinary action. Most Mozambicans have grown up in a system where self-advocacy is not really possible, so sometimes the only people with the guts to demand what they need are people who have had experience outside the country. Because of all the opportunities Victor has had in the U.S., he is able to see things differently, and God has been able to use him to advocate for those we serve in our ministry. This was one of the best cases of that.

While Silmone and others tried to keep Marta alert and in good spirits, Victor walked through the halls of the hospital searching for a doctor. He heard that there was actually a surgeon from North Korea (yes, North) at the hospital. Victor knows a few Korean words because of family and friends from Korea. The surgeon was shocked and thrilled when he heard his own language come out of the mouth of a Mozambican, something that had never happened before. This started a friendship with the surgeon, and he agreed to operate on Marta, even though it wasn’t a case that would have been chosen. 

But there was one major problem - there was no anesthesiologist available, and by now it was late at night. Victor found people in the hospital who knew where the anesthesiologist lived, drove to his house, and knocked on the door. At first the exhausted anesthesiologist refused to come out, but finally Victor convinced him, and he got in the car and drove back to the hospital with Victor. But there were no anesthesia drugs in the hospital. The anesthesiologist gave Victor the name of the drugs needed. Victor drove around the city looking for any open pharmacy, but there were none of the needed drugs. He asked a technician in the hospital if there was any way to find the drugs in the city and was told that important and hard-to-get drugs are often hidden, locked away, and guarded by hospital staff, even in their own homes. He eventually located a person hiding the right drugs and convinced him to release what was needed for the surgery. Victor also located an OBGYN who he also convinced to be in on the operation in case there was any chance that the mother and baby could both survive. 

After Victor’s night of driving around and personally picking up the staff needed to perform the surgery and the drugs and medical supplies required for it to take place, it was finally time to operate. Everyone was prepared for the worst and mostly just focused on Marta’s life being saved. So we were all shocked and overjoyed when we found out that she AND the baby were both still alive after the surgery. The North Korean surgeon had saved Marta’s life by giving her a colostomy. 

In the hospital you have to bring food, water, blankets, soap, toilet paper, and sometimes even pain killers; and you have to make sure that your loved one is getting cared for or it may not happen. The nurses were neglecting Marta and refusing to change her colostomy bags or treat her. When the surgeon found out about it he started doing it himself and was checking on her every few hours, caring for her, and reporting concerns and progress to Silmone.

When Marta had recovered enough to return to her house in the orphanage she was still in pretty bad shape and struggled to get used to the colostomy. The surgeon came to the orphanage every other day and personally checked on her and cared for her. We were all blown away by the way he went so far above and beyond what he was called to do. The surgeon found out that our MAF missionary friend Jill had been giving our kids taekwondo lessons and wanted to see what they had learned. He did a taekwondo demonstration for the kids, and we were all impressed and intimidated by his intensity and strength! There are a lot of great details that we can’t share in a blog, but this surgeon was kind of like the Good Samaritan, to say the least.

When it was time for Marta to have the baby everyone was praying for another miracle, knowing how scary and fragile Marta’s health was. The North Korean surgeon and the Mozambican OBGYN and their team were prepared, and God protected Marta again as they helped her deliver a healthy baby boy through cesarean section, despite the complications of the colostomy. Everyone watched her care for her son while handling her medical condition with grace and courage. And Courage is the name Marta and Silmone gave to their new baby.

Initially the surgeon planned to reverse the colostomy six months after the delivery. But as time passed it appeared that a reversal would be too risky. On several occasions Marta has run out of bags and we have scrambled to find friends who could bring them from outside the country, just in time. The month long electricity crisis and water shortage during the floods at the beginning of the year were especially hard on Marta in her condition. Silmone has been the most amazing husband, father, and caregiver through it all and has set an incredible example to everyone who knows him. 

One day Silmone went to the hospital to talk to the surgeon and couldn’t find him. Silmone found another doctor from the same country and he told Silmone that the surgeon had been reassigned, was already gone, and would never be back. Silmone tried not to panic. We already knew that this surgeon was the only practicing doctor in our region who knew how to do this type of operation. He was also the only person who truly knew what was going on medically with Marta. There was no way to reach him, and there were no records telling what had happened or what had been done with Marta.

We started looking for a doctor who would take a case like this. We talked to medical people who told us that this was an extremely complicated situation, and even in the U.S. it would be hard to find a doctor who would attempt a colostomy reversal on a patient who had no medical records without first cutting in to see what was going on. Even then, many experienced surgeons would probably refuse to do this operation. But the idea that Marta would have to continue living with a colostomy in a place like Mozambique where you can never count on having consistent electricity, water, the right type of food, or control over how sanitary your living conditions are was unimaginable.

In South Africa you can get health care comparable to the U.S., and at a much lower cost. We started asking all our friends with connections to South Africa to help us find a doctor there who could look at Marta’s case. We planned to fundraise to send her to South Africa and pay for a surgery once we found a doctor who could look at her. But we could not find one doctor who we could go to. We kept praying that God would provide a doctor and funding to pay for the trip and medical costs.

This summer Victor was planning to do a youth conference in Malawi, and he asked Silmone and a friend who speaks Chichewa, the local language, to go there to set things up a few months in advance. They stayed with one of Victor’s old friends, Pastor Haswell. When Silmone told Pastor Haswell about Marta’s situation, Pastor Haswell told him that he had a relative who had had an operation like that at a hospital nearby and he would try to find him.

Malawi is a small country surrounded by Mozambique on three sides with friendly people facing the same challenges that Mozambicans face, in and out of the hospital. We never dreamed that we would find a solution to Marta’s condition in Malawi. But suddenly out of nowhere we had Pastor Haswell, who was able to track down the Malawian doctor and his team. He shared Marta’s story, and the doctors agreed to set a date to operate on her.

In August Marta, Silmone and Courage traveled to Malawi for the colostomy reversal. We discovered that a surgeon from Britain was traveling around Africa with a surgeon from Sudan, working with local African doctors in different places, and this was the team that would operate on Marta. They would do the surgery free of charge. The doctors did not know if they would be able to reverse the colostomy. Without medical records they were dependent on oral history from non-medical people, from Portuguese to English with no translator who could speak both languages. They would have to cut in and see what was going on and then determine if it would be safe to attempt a reversal or not.

We all waited and prayed that they would be able to perform the operation and that it would work. We knew from other medical professionals how dangerous the whole thing was and were preparing to trust God with whatever outcome He would give us.

The day of the big reversal operation finally came, and Marta was in surgery for many hours as everyone waited to hear what they would find and if they would even attempt to do it. Finally the doctor came out and gave the good news that they had found it would be possible and had performed a colostomy reversal. Everyone was overjoyed! It seemed the operation had been a success, but we would still have to wait to see if it would take. 

Pastor Haswell and his wife Josephine and their children graciously hosted Marta and her family for over two months during this time. After initially being released from the hospital there were many ups and downs, and Marta even had to return to the hospital for a second surgery.

Silmone, Pastor Haswell, Josephine, Marta, and Courage in Malawi.

As we waited to see if Marta would become stable and be released to return to Mozambique, we considered how we would get her and her family back home. To get from Nampula to Malawi is either extremely hard on the body (and mental health and emotions) or extremely expensive. If you don’t have a car that can handle a trip on unpredictable roads that could be broken, impassible, or covered by a river, you have to take the 9-15 hour train ride from hell, public transportation in overcrowded chapas (small passenger vans) with no shock absorption, and then ride on the back of a bike being peddled by a teenager half your weight up and down a mile’s worth of dusty hills before getting the next all-day chapa. Taking a commercial flight would cost over $500 per person and would drop you at an airport 336 kilometers away. Long distances in bumpy, crowded vehicles were not really an option for Marta at this point, as we didn’t want to damage the delicate operation she was freshly recovering from. 

We are good friends with the MAF families based in Nampula. MAF is Mission Aviation Fellowship - missionary pilots who fly in and out of the most remote locations on earth, transporting missionaries and health workers in and out of places that are difficult or impossible to reach by land, responding to emergencies, and doing tons of other stuff that would never happen without them. In 2009 an MAF pilot rescued us from Cuamba, where there was no doctor, when Victor got extremely ill with blood poisoning. We called MAF and they said they would be able to pick up Marta and Silmone in Malawi! The small MAF plane was able to land on a tiny runway near the hospital, where no commercial plane could ever go.

A few days ago Marta was given the all clear and released to return to Mozambique. The MAF plane picked up her family and flew them back to Nampula where the whole orphanage had been eagerly awaiting their return! 

At the airport in Malawi with MAF Pilot Dave LePoidevin. 
(That's the control tower behind them!)

Getting on the MAF plane.

Marta, Silmone and Courage on their way home.

Arriving at the Nampula airport.

I know I have not been able to convey the true drama, emotion, and miraculous works of God that we have witnessed through Marta and all the people God has used to get her through this. I just hope you can get a glimpse of the way God cares for His people in Mozambique where the challenges can sometimes look so insurmountable.

Thank you so much all who have kept Marta in your prayers. Please continue to pray for her and her family as they serve our children, church, and community. Marta and Silmone are such a blessing to us and we are so grateful for their strong faith, gentle presence and hard work. 

Thank you all who have cared for Marta and the rest of us through all of this. Thank you to the doctors and other medical staff in the hospitals in Nampula and Malawi. A special thank you to the surgeon from North Korea who worked tirelessly for the good of his patient with such dignity and honor in the midst of the most challenging conditions a surgeon could face. Thank you for your creativity and high quality of work in order to save two lives under the most dire circumstances. And to the doctors from Malawi, Sudan, and Britain who were willing to take a patient from another country, perform a surgery other doctors would not do, and see her through with proper care until the end. Thank you to Pastor Haswell and Josephine Banda and family for your great kindness and hospitality for such a long time. By serving this family you are serving all the children and families that they serve. And thank you to MAF in Nampula for providing us and so many others with such a tremendous service when no other way really exists. We are repeatedly amazed at the way God works and we are so thankful for being a part of all of this. 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Hidden Enemies Strike Cuamba Base at Night

Alex, one of the children we are working with, standing in front of the grass shelter he is currently living in while he waits for us to build facilities at our Cuamba orphanage.

In this part of Africa, when children become orphaned or homeless they often end up becoming a servant in the house of a person who might mistreat them or be well meaning but too poor to actually care for them. Many orphans, no matter how small, end up doing heavy work the entire day – working the land, hauling water, cooking, cleaning, washing clothes, and caring for other children - without getting paid, being allowed to go to school, or getting decent food, clothing, shelter, medical care, or even love. It's a pretty heartbreaking situation to say the least.

When Victor started working with orphans almost 15 years ago, he never intended to build an orphanage. He initially felt that God was calling him to serve orphaned children by caring for them and the people they were living with, without removing them from those places. He held kids clubs where he and his team cooked the kids hearty meals, taught them about God, and gave them clothes, school supplies, and money to pay school fees. This was super exciting until they watched the people the children were living with take the clothes, take the school supplies, refuse to allow the kids to go to school, and continue to mistreat, abuse, and practice witchcraft with them. At this point it seemed that providing the kids with a place to stay was the best way to truly help them and that's when we started to build the first orphanage!

As you know, we are currently constructing a second orphanage in Cuamba, a village located in the province north of Nampula. There are currently no orphanages and a lot of orphans. As we construct the first facilities at our base there, we are working with local orphans using the model we used in Nampula in the very beginning. We have identified the children with the greatest need, then we invited them to little gatherings where we distributed some food, clothing, and school supplies. We met with the adults who they are temporarily living with (in the most rudimentary conditions imaginable) and gave them fees to enroll the kids in school.


Angelo cooking.

Certo in front of the bamboo shelter where he currently lives.

This sweet elderly grandma would normally be living with a family who would be caring for her but because of pre-mature deaths,she and her grandchild are left to fend for themselves and do whatever it takes to survive.

Just like in Nampula, this seemed to be going well at first. But our guys who are there running the base soon discovered that children they had started working with were then missing because they had been sent to work in the mines! Now that our team knows and loves these kids, we feel a greater sense of urgency to prepare the facilities needed for them to move in.

We have already constructed our first main building, which will house staff and function as an office and all-purpose area.

This staff and office house still needs the concrete floor poured, the walls plastered and painted, and electrical wiring. We already have the windows, doors, and security bars.

Our staff interns with the kids.

Over the last few months we have had fantastic progress on the second orphanage building and got to the point where it was almost time to put the roof on!

Digging the foundation

Laying the first blocks.

The walls begin to come up.

View from a tall tree.

Over the past decade we have constructed over ten concrete buildings – from one-room rondovals to huge dorms. At first we hired local builders to do the work while our staff and older boys hung around, watched, and assisted. For each building Victor and the other guys on staff learned how to do more and more until now they are able to build on their own. Victor has overseen the entire construction of the first Cuamba building over Facebook video and voice chat with Carlos, one of our staff interns who used to work construction at the Nampula orphanage and is now in charge of the building in Cuamba. Carlos has never been outside of Mozambique and has not quite grasped time-zones so Victor is usually doing Facebook chat with him at midnight or 3am or 5am as we are currently in the U.S.

Outside walls completed and ready for the roof.

And then our guys woke up to find this . . .

During the night someone destroyed most of our building!

This is is immensely discouraging and so sad for the kids who are waiting in such difficult conditions for the orphanage to get up and running. But it is not something completely shocking. We have no idea who did this, but it is something that happens. Our Cuamba base is on a great piece of land that has never been developed. People in the area practice animism and witchcraft and they are superstitious and hold beliefs that will not welcome a Christian orphanage or possibly work that will provide a safe home for the children that are being used to work as servants in houses, in the fields, and in the mines.

Please pray for the children in Cuamba who are currently living in the most terrible situations. Pray for protection, strength, and encouragement for our staff guys, Carlos and Ezekiel, who are living at the base, working with the kids, and constructing these buildings. We sent them there from Nampula to do this work and they have been amazing.

Our guys are now back up, trying to rebuild what was destroyed.

How the front looks now. (This will be a porch in the foreground.)

These are some of the children we are working with in Cuamba (as well as Angelo, pictured above) who we hope will be able to move into our new orphanage once our facilities are built. Please remember them in your prayers!

Our staff interns, Carlos and Ezekiel.

The mud and grass shelter Carlos and Ezekiel have been living in for over 6 months now!

Sunday, October 18, 2015

New Staff Family

Jose and Argentina

Over the summer Jose and Argentina joined our Evanjáfrica family as staff interns and are now living at the orfanato with their two children. They are both from Murrupula Village, which is about 70 kilometers from Nampula City. They went to Bible school together in Beira and graduated in 2010. After that Jose pastored a local church for four years and Argentina was involved with women’s ministry. She is also amazing with little kids. Our plan is to train them in Nampula for one year and then send them to Cuamba to run our new orphanage there. We are really excited to have them on staff! Please pray for this family and their future running our second orfanato in Cuamba next year!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Music: Eu Ti Adorarei Meu Senhor

Our kids singing at our last conference in August.

It is so fun to watch kids like Ofeita and Stela (singing) come into the orphanage as tiny little girls and then grow up to be young ladies who are leaders in the orphanage, church and community. Jeremias (guitar) was also in the orphanage for over ten years and is now in law school. Mauridi (leading singing and guitar) is a long-time friend of Evanjafrica and used to do evangelism with Victor. He originally came to Mozambique as a refugee from the war in the Congo. The choirs from the Congo have a reputation for being some of the best you will ever hear and Mauridi is one of the most gifted musicians among them. Rosa, one of our interns, is on the far left (mostly out of view). Her voice and leadership have been a great asset to the orphanage and band. Videos can not capture the beauty, strength, and emotional fullness of African church music, but hopefully this will give you a little taste!

Ofeita and Stela in the orfanato in 2007

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Kids Eat Cheeseburgers for the First Time Ever!!!

Victor and Canana grilled burgers for the kids. It was the first time any of them have ever had a burger before in their lives. Everyone loved it!

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Carlitos and Casilda's Wedding

Casilda walking down the aisle.

Carlitos and Casilda.

Pastors and padrinhos praying for the marriage.

Ladies singing and dancing to celebrate!

Lots of good singing and dancing!

The bride and groom. 

Carlitos was a kid in the orphanage who then went to trade school to become an accountant. He is now on the Evanjafrica staff and does amazing work in our office. We are so proud of him for his hard work and faithfulness, and we are delighted to see him starting a family of his own.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Pastor's Conference

It was a privilege to have Pastor Mark Turner speak at our Pastors Conference here in Nampula.