Friday, March 27, 2009

Loss of a Friend

March 27, 2009

I’ve been in Kenya this week outside of Nairobi at a conference center called Brackenhurst. It is a nice center with the ability to accommodate large groups. SIM has called together all of its top leaders for a Global Leaders Gathering. We have spent the week listening to speakers, most of them Africans talking about missions in and from Africa with implications for an organization like SIM. It has been good to listen, interact with other SIM leaders and reflect on the issues that have been raised. SIM as an organization has been working hard to flex with the changing realities of a global church that is shifting from the traditional center of Europe and North America to the continents of Africa, Asia and South America. These changes have implication on the way that we do missions as well as the places that missionaries are coming from. What will the next couple of decades in missions look like? It is hard to say, but it will be diverse, creative and much different than missions has looked during the last 150 years.

I received a phone call yesterday morning to say that Pastor Prince Stazio had died. Heidi and I had been to the hospital to visit him again the day before we left to come here. He had been diagnosed with hepatitis which had attacked his liver. He was in good spirits, especially considering his condition. The doctors had not given a good diagnosis, but thought he might live a few more months. I did not know it would be the last time that I would see him this side of heaven. He was released from the hospital on Wednesday and proceeded to his family’s village about four hours south of Blantyre. He died that evening.

I am not sure when the funeral will be, but it will probably be today or tomorrow. It is a tragedy that a young man like Prince should die of a preventable disease. In the West, we vaccinate against hepatitis. I understand the vaccine is available in Malawi, the systems are just impotent to deliver it to everyone. It doesn’t seem fair.

Prince was a good friend. I think that I have eaten in his house more than any other Malawian family. Any time that I went to see him or preach in his church he always had a meal to share. He was one of the most active pastors that I knew. He seemed to never stop moving. If he was pushing the church building project, he was all over town making sure people were following through on their commitments to supply materials. Or he was in the mud with the other volunteers molding bricks. He will be missed.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Typical Atypical Day

One of the adventures and annoyances of living in Africa is the randomness of daily life. If you thrive on change, and get an adrenaline rush from the adventure of never being sure what will happen next you can thrive. If you like predictability and a sense of control of your day and schedule it can wear you down. I fall somewhere in the middle. When people arrive new here I often recommend that they do not schedule out their whole day as random interruptions and things beyond their control will take up the rest of their time. If you schedule out your whole day, you will only frustrate yourself.

Yesterday I had plans to spend the first part of the morning in town on some errands and then the rest of the day writing some documents and e-mails following up meetings from Monday and Tuesday. As I was getting ready to leave I learned that I had a visitor. A local politician had come to see me. He was at the deadline for paying his fees to have his name put on the ballot. He gave a lengthy explanation on how and why he was running (it seems politicians the world over have difficulty summarizing) and finished by asking if I had about a thousand dollars to lend him so that he could enter his name into the election.

I began by expressing my appreciation for his running for office and explained that I felt that Christians should have a voice in the running of their countries. I also cautioned him that politics is a complicated business and it is easy to compromise ones faith and beliefs if they are not careful. Politicians receive pressure from all sides about all sorts of things. I went on to explain that our organization has a policy that we do not involve ourselves in politics. We are neutral. His response was that this could be done privately and no one would have to know about it. I explained that I could not compromise in that way (didn’t I just talk about compromise??). By the time I was done with the long explanations I was late for getting to the hospital.

As I left home I was warned that it was now outside of visiting hours and I might not be able to see the pastor that I wanted to see. I’ve been to the central hospital enough times that I knew I would manage to get in. I entered through the main entrance and headed for the wards. I was met by a security guard. Rather than tell me it was outside of visiting hours he desired to escort me to wherever it was that I was going. I quickly found Pastor Stazio.

He has been sick for a couple of months now. I only learned of it about a week ago when the head of the church had been alerted by one of the church elders that Stazio was very sick. After about a week Stazio finally made it to Blantyre. He is just a shadow of the man he was. While I am frustrated by the length of time that people often wait to seek medical treatment here, it is at the same time understandable. The medical system is overstretched, under resourced and diagnosis often results in people’s symptoms being treated rather than the root of their problem. Pastor Stazio had been to a hospital about a month ago and they had found nothing. He knew he had a problem, but the ones that should have been able to diagnose it failed. It can cause you to lose faith in a system. When he arrived in Blantyre, we sent him to the main hospital with hope that he would be admitted. He was given a basic examination and told to return in nine days for a scan of his abdomen. I was unimpressed. One of our docs was in town and she felt that the nine days was too long. The next morning she was able to communicate with a doctor friend who works at the central hospital to get him taken care of sooner. So, he was admitted the next day and should have a scan and diagnosis by the end of tomorrow. As with so many things here, relationships are key to getting things done.
By the time I left the hospital it was into the afternoon as I headed for our internet service provider. The next forty minutes was spent discussing the details of internet service and the new system being set-up and its implications as well as negotiating pricing for the service. Almost everything that can be bought is negotiable.

By the time I got home it was nearly dinner time. I managed a couple of e-mails before we ate and then was greeted by a seven hour power outage after dinner. So, I didn’t get to the paperwork that I originally intended. Frustrated? A little bit. Surprised? Not really.