Wednesday, September 28, 2016

“Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” ― Dylan Thomas

      Came really close to dying Sunday but I raged against the dying of the light with help from Dr. Chris.  The vultures were circling and waiting (see picture at right).  Dr. Chris worked on me for five hours straight while I was delirious with spiking fever, but he pulled me through.  I remember seeing that it was eight o’clock in the morning when he arrived and the next thing I remember it was one in the afternoon and I was in a pool of my own sweat with IV’s in both arms and Dr. Chris ready to give me another injection.  I threw up so long and so hard that I was still sore on Tuesday night.  The doctor thinks my cerebral malaria might have been brought on by my taking phony malaria medication (sadly, too common) and he responded with Artesun IV injections (five over four days) which the WHO (World Health Organization) says is the very best treatment for severe malaria.  All I know is that it worked, and I am almost back to completely normal.  I have a five hour gap in my memory from Sunday, but I can live with that.  Karen and John both thought I wasn’t going to make it, but Dr. Chris said I wasn’t going to die on his watch—and he meant it.  Cerebral malaria can cause brain damage, coma, or death but pretty sure I dodged all three of those bullets.  I can’t remember ever being that sick, and what Karen says I was like during that five-hour blackout makes me a believer in prayer and the prayers of sincere carers.  Thank you so very much.  It seems I still have work to do here.  While Dr. Chris spent a lot of time here over the last few days, he and John talked about working out how to supply his new clinic with solar lights, and his new clinic is right across from the national power company.  Dr. Chris doesn’t want the power failing while he is operating, and who can blame him.  I got my last injection yesterday about three in the afternoon and am feeling pretty good right now, but as sick as I was, just not being about to die would feel good.  My grandmother used to use “being able to sit up and take nourishment” as the measure of my improvement, so by her standard, I’m doing well.  I can’t say enough for Karen, John, Shaban, and Dr. Chris for doing all the physical things necessary and all of you fantastic prayer warriors for not letting God forget me.  I lost lots and lots of red blood cells, so I will be weak for a month or more, but as Arnold Schwarzenegger says, “I’ll be back!”  Thank you again and God bless each of you.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

“I sought to hear the voice of God and climbed the topmost steeple, but God declared: "Go down again - I dwell among the people.” ― John Henry Newman (author of “Amazing Grace”)

     Many, many people do not believe in a God that gets His hands dirty (so to speak).  They do not believe in a God who plays an active role in their lives, but rather believe in a God more like Santa Claus who keeps a list of who’s naughty or nice and rewards or punishes at the end.  Or they believe that prayers to God are like purchasing lottery tickets—they don’t expect to win, but know that if the ticket isn’t purchased, there is no hope at all.  I’m not one of those people.  I believe in a God that is active and who interferes if necessary in my life.  I cannot be convinced that God doesn’t send “thank-you” notes or that He doesn’t push and nudge me towards good and away from evil.  You can believe however you want, I don’t insist that you believe the way I do, but I like the idea of a God who is ever-present and ever active in my life.  
     The people who don’t believe in an interactive God set great store in coincidence.  Coincidence is a remarkable concurrence of events or circumstances without apparent causal connection (according to Webster).  I just flat don’t believe in coincidence and would take the word out of my dictionary if I could.  I have had too many personal experiences of God working actively in my life and know that everything I have done so far was to prepare me for finishing my life serving God in Africa.  Let me give you an example.  If you read yesterday’s blog, you would know that we are frequently depressed and that packages from home help us a lot.  After I posted yesterday’s blog, a package arrived from home.  It had some great stuff in it, but most importantly, it had prescription medication for me that I can’t get here.  Now, I, as usual, sent an immediate email to the sender to tell her the package arrived intact.  She was happy and then said, “What about the other package?”  She had mailed two just four days apart, so another package from home will arrive next week.  Okay, see where I’m going with this?  Last night, I got an email from a friend and former parishioner in Boston telling me that he had gotten a big box together and wanted to know if I needed anything else before he mailed it next week.  That would be another package that will arrive in about a month.  Let’s recap: I write that we are a bit down and would love a package from home and immediately get one, have another coming next week, and another in a month.  That’s three (3) packages I didn’t know about, one coming within hours of my posting the blog, another coming within a week of the blog, and another big one coming in a month.  How can I not believe in a God who listens and answers in the same day?  You can talk for a long time and make many convincing arguments for coincidence, but I simply won’t believe them.  God listens.  God answers.  God is active in my life, and I truly believe God will be active in yours if you but let Him.  

Friday, September 23, 2016

“One of the most important things you can do on this earth is to let people know they are not alone.” ― Shannon L. Alder

     It should come as no surprise that for missionaries, depression comes with the territory.  If you Google “missionary depression,” you will be directed to over 600,000 websites dealing with that subject.  As one psychologist wrote, “Missionaries are at a greater risk for depression because of the extreme circumstances and situations they are faced with every day involving life and death, injustice, and bringing love into dark places.”  Well, amen to that.  Still, we knew that going in.  We have seen other missionaries here in our area that have had to go back home because they just couldn’t deal with the depression.  We also know one or two who struggled and fought it—and won.  They are still here, better people now, still serving Christ.  We do have the image in the picture at the right to keep us going.  Christ will always put His arm around us to comfort and encourage, and we so desperately need that.  Here, we don’t have anti-depressants, counselors, therapists, or even close friends our own age to share our pains.  We do have the smiles and laughter of the orphans we feed every day to sustain us.  The “Mungu aka bariki” (God bless you) we hear almost every day from someone we have helped, even if just a little, is always a comfort, too.  So much of what we do is like planting trees whose shade we will never enjoy, pitching small pebbles in pond—never seeing how far or whom the ripples touch that we can’t get much comfort from that.  The isolation and loneliness can get to us, but we have it better than most who have gone before us because of the internet with its email, Facebook, eCards, and live audio and video connection with our children and grandchildren.  But, Paul didn’t have anything to help his depression—and he was depressed, a lot.  Neither did the other disciples.  Neither did Alfred Schweitzer or David Livingstone.  The first Methodist missionary to Africa only lived for nine months in a malarial haze but she founded a school that exists to this day.  See, it’s not about us and our comfort, physical or emotional.  It’s about being obedient and available every single day—because we said, “Here we are, send us.”  We said it with no conditions and asked for no special help.  I’m not trying to make us sound extraordinary because we’re not.  We’re just ordinary folks doing what many, many would do if they could.  We are committed to serving here till we die, and nothing will change that.  All that being said, we do like to get email, real letters and cards in the mail, and small packages (large ones are great—just very expensive to send).  You can send things to us at:

Charles or Karen Wiggins
P.O. Box 21
Bunda, Tanzania
East Africa

There are no postal codes.  You can send pretty much anything, but what Karen would love is make-up and things for her schools, like crayons, colored markers, or just colored paper clips.  John likes Legos and any little electronic pieces even if you have no idea what they do.  Boxes of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese are also always welcome.  We really want and welcome prayers more than anything, but some have asked what extra they could do.  Even though it takes a month or more to get things here, just knowing that something is coming gives us something to look forward to with anticipation.  However, if you do decide to send us anything, please, please do NOT put a value on it above $20.  Whatever value you put is what customs will charge us to pick up the package.  One well-intentioned person sent us some school supplies but put a value of $300 on them, and we could not afford to get them out of the post office.  They were later sent back, and we never heard from that person again.  I don’t blame them, but we are poor here, and it is not helping to make us take money that could go to food for orphans to pay postage fees, that’s all.  There are already some wonderful people who send us two or three packages a year, and it’s a big day when those arrive.  You want to cheer up a missionary, any missionary?  Send them something from home, something from you.  It’s like getting a hug when you’re feeling a little down.  Just sending prayers is huge, so don’t think I’m asking for you to spend money on us.  Besides, take a look again at the picture.  We already have some pretty good comfort available, but if you’ve got a little spare cash, a little time, and like going to the post office, we would love to get something in the mail. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” ― Kahlil Gibran

     Back to almost normal, malaria gone, and just slowly regaining my strength.  It wasn’t nearly as bad because we caught it early.  Sadly, many, many deaths occur here because people wait too late to get help.  Malaria has several symptoms and just one or two doesn’t mean you have malaria, but you should get tested as soon as any appear.  The tests cost money, however, and that prevents most of the population from getting tested at the early stages.  We had a medical/dental mission team here many years ago, and the physician on that team reported that almost everyone that he saw reported having the complaint for years—not days or weeks but years.  As a result, there wasn’t much he could do for most of them.  There is no free education here or free health care and the country suffers as a result.  Early detection and treatment would save thousands of lives, but it doesn’t happen because going to the doctor costs a dollar or two.  Sounds crazy, doesn’t it, but if you only make a dollar a day and your children will go hungry if you spend it for anything but food, well, you have to make some hard choices.  Right now, Shaban’s mother-in-law is heading for back surgery in Mwanza that could have been avoided if she had been seen a year before, but she waited until she was partially paralyzed before seeking help.  
      Early detection saved my life more than once.  When Karen and I were living in Los Angeles, we were part of a medical plan called Kaiser Permanente which was offered through Karen’s school.  Two of our three boys were born in Kaiser hospitals, one in Hollywood and one in Fontana.  We paid nothing for anything, and Kaiser encouraged you to come in at the first sign of anything wrong.  Kaiser knew that preventative medicine was so much cheaper than curative, so catching things early saved them a lot of money as well as saving lives.  Me, I once had a cold, just a cold, but went in because I wanted some antibiotics to keep it from turning into flu.  I took our only car (a VW camper but hey, we were hippies) and went to the Kaiser clinic just two miles from our house.  I’ll never forget that day or the names of the doctors.  I saw Dr. Stephen Green at the clinic who asked, during the exam for my cold, how long I had had a spot on my arm.  I didn’t know, so he insisted I go to see the dermatologist at the Kaiser hospital in Fontana.  I had a cold, didn’t feel good, and didn’t want to drive the twenty-five miles to Fontana, but Dr. Green insisted, so I went.  I was seen immediately which should have alerted me, but it didn’t.  The dermatologist just said, “Hmm, hmm,” and called for the Chief of Surgery, a Dr. Shaner to come in to see me.  Dr. Shaner said, “Hmm, hmm,” and picked up the phone and asked to get Operating Room Three ready.  No one had said anything to me as yet, so I said, “Excuse me, would you like to tell me something?”  Dr. Shaner said he didn’t like the spot on my arm and wanted to remove it as a preventative measure, so I said, “Sure.”  They chopped out quite a large section of my arm and then called my wife to tell her I was out of surgery, couldn’t drive, and would she come get me please.  Now, the last she heard, I was going to the nearby clinic to get some antibiotics for my cold.  She got really scared and found a neighbor to drive her out to the hospital to get me.  Four days later, on January 3, 1977, I was told I had malignant melanoma and just had a one in ten chance of surviving the next two years.  After many trips back to the hospital for biopsies, I was finally told to watch out for more spots but apparently, I was going to live.  Since I am still here, almost forty years later, I seem to be a poster boy for checking things early.  I was fortunate to have free health care as part of my wife’s school perks, or I would probably have died from that cancer that I wouldn’t have had checked until it was too late.  We pay for all our workers health care and send them to the hospital at the first signs of problems, even paying for taxis if necessary.  They have learned now and will go themselves at the first signs of trouble, but the vast majority of Tanzanians don’t because they can’t afford it.  So very sad.  There are so many deaths so easily preventable and with so little additional aid needed.  No one should have to starve to death or die of easily preventable diseases, but they do, in the millions.  Some day, Christ may ask us what we did to change it.  I worry that my answer won’t please Him.  

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

“When one person is missing the whole world seems empty.” ― Pat Schweibert

     When we lived in Southern California for eleven years from 1970 to 1981, my best friend was a man named Keith Compton.  We taught together in a ghetto school when Karen and I first moved there, and Keith and I became fast friends from then on.  We hiked together, climbed mountains together, sailed together, and even camped out at the bottom of the Grand Canyon together.  Once, as couples, we flew to San Francisco one night, had dinner there, spent the night, and the next day took a train back to Los Angeles spending the day looking at the beautiful scenery all down the California coast.  One Saturday, just to be able to say we did it—we went to the desert, the mountains, and ended at the beach, all in the same day.  At the time, neither Keith nor I were what anyone would call Christian.  We never saw each other again after Karen and I moved to Arkansas in 1981.  Many years later, after completing seminary and being ordained as a United Methodist pastor, we made contact again.  I had become a Christian in just about every way someone could, and I was nervous about reconnecting with someone from my rather checkered past.  Not only had Keith also become a Christian, he was in charge of promoting and setting up all the “Promise Keepers” events in Southern California.  We had both come a long way, baby.  We still shared a passion for motorcycles and through the internet and later Facebook were able to keep up with each other.  Keith introduced me, electronically, to a good friend of his, Richard Truitt, who was my age and a great Christian man.  Richard became a big fan of my blog, not only reading it every day but almost always commenting on it or sharing it with others.  He was very articulate and on many, many occasions his comments on what I had written made me feel very good indeed.  He had what Thoreau said was the highest of the arts—the ability to improve the quality of another person’s day.  I never met him in person as I have never been back to California since the day I left over thirty-five years ago, and he was never able to travel to Africa.  Sadly, for me especially, Richard passed away suddenly at his home on the 14th of this month.  I didn’t hear about it until my friend, Keith Compton, sent me the announcement.  I wrote Keith immediately telling him of my sorrow and that I was sharing his pain.  This was his Facebook post back to me: 

Keith Compton:  Thank you Charles.  Richard was a very gentle soul who loved God mightily.  I will miss his wit and wisdom.  He always brought his friend, Jesus, with him whenever we got together.  You and Richard and Will Rogers, never met a man you'all didn't like.

I hope and pray that Keith’s words will be true of me at my passing.  I just love the way Keith said that “He always brought his friend, Jesus, with him whenever we got together.”  Oh, that that could be true of me, and oh, wouldn’t it be wonderful if that was true of you as well.  It can be because Jesus will always go with you.  It’s up to you to see that others know that He is with you whenever you meet another person.  Can you do that?  Can you be like my friend, Richard?  Can you always bring your friend, Jesus, with you whenever you meet another?  I believe in you.  I believe you can.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

“The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also to love our enemies; probably because generally they are the same people.” ― G.K. Chesterton

      The saddest thing about this election, or any election for that matter, is that many, many relationships will be broken, and many people will stop talking to and loving good friends and family members.  Christ knew we would be like this and urged us to learn to forgive and love each other.  We don’t have to like each other to get along, but we do have to at least respect and care for each other.  You’d think we could at least be courteous and polite to those with whom we disagree, but even that tends to disappear amongst all the political invective and lies told by both sides.  Yes, both sides lie a bit, both sides shade the truth a bit, both sides think that they and they alone have the answers, but we all know that that is wrong, yet we act like it isn’t.  That is just sad, so very sad.  Christ would not be pleased with how we treat each other because loving each other as He loved us just doesn’t seem possible during an election—but it should be.  Here’s a non-political example of the kind of rift that occurs all the time between people who loved each other. 
     Former Beatle, George Harrison died in December 2001. During his final days his wife and child, and his sister, Louise were at his bedside. It was Louise’s presence that was especially poignant. You see, she and George had been feuding with each other for almost forty years and not speaking. Their feud began when Louise opened a bed and breakfast named “A Hard Day’s Night” without even asking George, and he was hurt and insulted.  The rift was healed only when George realized he would probably die from his cancer. Louise reports that their reconciliation was difficult but satisfying. “We sort of held hands like we used to do” she said. “We used to talk for hours about life and God and the universe. We were able to look into each other’s eyes again with love. It was a very, very positive and loving meeting.”  This episode tells us exactly what reconciliation is – two people who have been at odds with one another, coming together in a renewed and restored relationship, one where they are able to “look into each other’s eyes again with love.” This is what it means to reconcile with God, and with our fellow human beings.  The tragedy of course, is that George and Louise took so long to reconcile, that they missed out on so much. Similarly, it is a tragedy when we wait so long to be reconciled to those we love and/or to God.  Please, please try to respect, love, and forgive those with whom you disagree.  And to really get personal, that includes fans, coaches, and members of teams that play your favorite team.  I’m as guilty of this as anyone.  I grew up in a home in Texas where all the men (except me) went to the University of Texas, and I married into a family that was exactly the same.  I hated Aggies for way too many years.  It didn’t really end until I was a pastor and some of my congregation were Aggies—and they were fine, Christian, loving people.  Who knew?  But if I could change and even reconcile with my own father over our political differences, so can you.  Please don’t let this election (or football season) drive a wedge between you and those who should be receiving your love and respect.  Please.