“All we wanted was a day for the family.” Suzanne and I have left the kids with Sarah and gone to Lake Bosumtwi for a few days to see our friends the Jernigans, who run a clinic up there. Dr. Ju is telling a story about the previous day’s events, how Andrew’s cell phone rang, (which is a novelty because there is little cell phone coverage out there) and when they heard it this time, he sees there were 11 missed calls. He calls back, but its 100% local language, spoken at 120%, so to obrunie ears (even ones that speak the language), almost uncomprehendible. They find Sammy, the clinic administrator, and he tries to call back, but the cell phone coverage window has shifted. Sammy keeps on trying and eventually gets through enough to find out which of the 42 villages surrounding the lake person is calling from. More of the clinic staff is getting involved, like Isaac, the boat driver (who is also the song leader at the Methodist Church), Angelina, the charge nurse and midwife, but for different reasons. The boat is packed and ready to go, and as Dr. Ju is going down the hill toward the boat, all Angelina says, “But, you have a patient…”
You’ve got to understand that Dr. Ju is the most amazing, patient, understanding doctor I’ve ever seen, and to hear her tell this story about wanting a day off, and having a few words with God about the lack thereof, as she marches down the hill, it seems completely out of character. “I was angry,” she says, “I wanted to just tell these people to go away.”
At the clinic there is a mother with a four year old son who by sight is limp and unresponsive. She has carried this boy on her back for two hours, walking over many hills, but it doesn’t seem right to call them hills, but they are less than mountains, so just think of them as either really large hills, or small mountains. I guess what you call them depends on where you are on them, but for this mother, the walk has exhausted her, she is breathing hard, and her cloths are soaked in sweat, and still finds the energy to greet Ju properly in their local language, gasping between words.
Still she goes through with the examination, praying I’m sure, and wondering what to say to this mother, who will now carry the body home over those same mountains, for more than two hours. I’m sure thoughts go to her own children, and the common bond they share as mothers, and that gets all mixed in with her being pulled away from them this morning, and wanting to have just one day with them undisturbed, that and the boat that is waiting to take her to one of the 42 villages that is her parish, and this is Sunday. “I had a really bad attitude,” Ju confesses, but I doubt anyone but God could see that, she is a compassionate doctor who loves the Lord, and that is all anyone sees, but inside there was a storm brewing.
She talks with the mother, trying to figure out how things got to this point. “Why did you wait so long?” she asks not wanting to belabor a point, but curious the same. It seems that the mother had been to a clinic in a different village, run by a different church that practices its Sabbath on Saturday, and does strictly, so even with a very sick child, this mother was turned away, because it was their Sabbath. “And that’s when God convicted me,” Ju says, and I cried with the mother. For that baby boy, for her own children, for her selfish heart, for Andrew, for all that God has called them to do, and only wanting a rest from it, but never wanting to turn away a mother, without even knowing how very sick her baby was. “God broke me,” she tell us.
Its Monday afternoon now, and Suzanne and I are sitting in their living room, listening to Ju tell the story. Our hearts break with her. We have come to spend a few days with Ju and Andrew, to see life from their perspective, to experience what they do, and to let Suzanne feel village life and the lake. Mostly we just talk, like adults do, play with the kids, and dream with them of what God could do in a place like this.
Since I was there last, much progress, and some regress has been made. They have a big new generator, a “BFG,” my family calls it, meaning the Big Friendly Generator, named after that quirky little book by Rould Daul. The brick house, the one I stayed in last, has its roof torn off it, and the windows knocked out and a team of 20 or so workers is making amazing, almost minute by minute progress putting it all back together. All that is left from the original structure is the brick walls and when it is done, it will have been expanded by 25% and will become the new Jernigan home, complete with windows that actually shut, and AC units. Elsewhere, they have added an office, complete with internet, and AC, and after a few minutes in there, sitting at American desks, in American chairs, with the drapes drawn, you can completely forget where you are. I know I did, and when we walked out, I had a moment of disorientation, because suddenly we were back in rural Africa, and my mind is wondering, now how did that happen?
[house being reconstructed]
It is one of the things I love about the Jernigans, they are so fluid, and flexible, and forward looking and thinking. They seek the best, and what is right, and do so no matter from which direction the past has brought them. For so many, the way things are is because that is the way things were, and even though change would be a right and the good thing, their past won’t allow a different course of action (at least in their mind), and even in the midst of all this, you find them longing for a different past, one that wouldn’t have lead them to this point, and yet unwilling to make a change. But not the Jernigans, and I so admire their courage, and fortitude, and imagination, and hope, and I know God sees that and blesses it.
[large bed with Suzanne to show its size]
At night Suzanne and I stay at the resort across the lake, just a 10 minute boat ride away and sleep in the largest bed we have ever seen. It is fun to sleep in AC, and watch satellite TV (you can never see Top Gun enough times), and it feels weird to be so comfortable so far out in rural Ghana. The lake is, of course, beautiful, and in the morning I hear the fishermen singing to fish.
[Andrew & Michael talking “construction”]
[Julieanna and Luzisa by MB]
“So what is the rest of the story?” I asked Andrew when we arrived Monday afternoon, wondering about the emergency. While it was happening, Andrew was watching the kids, and blogging about it real-time, as events unfolded. But I had not been back to the internet café to read the rest of the story. Dr. Ju did go on the boat, and the emergency turned out to be a pregnancy problem and she was referred to hospital. Sometimes what happens is not as interesting as what it causes to happen inside, or put another way, how God uses it in our lives.
I don’t know where the line will be for Dr. Ju and Andrew, about where the clinic responsibilities end, and the family ones begin. I know as a pastor, I did not do a very good job of watching those boundaries, and my family suffered. There was encroachment, like squatters camped out in my life. I wasn’t sure where the church ended, and I began. The one thing we did well in the early years of our ministry—actually it was Suzanne—was to make sure that I got out of town with her for a few days, away from the cell phone, internet, or anything connected with the church. It was then I reverted, back to the old Steve. But the longer I served, the longer it took to change back, and the last several years, I’m not sure I reverted at all until we ran away to Africa. I don’t want the same to happen to Dr. Ju and Pastor Andrew, and so far they seem to be doing a good job of it, running away to a conference in Thailand, medical training in Liverpool, or just to Accra for a few days at their favorite place, The Cresta Royal (now the Fiesta Royal, but nobody will call it that), and with some friends who admire them greatly.
I don’t know where the balance will be for them between the encroachment, and turning away a mother with a sick child because—it is the Sabbath. I don’t know if there is a balance between ministry and life, it seems to me the numbers just don’t add up. They say we spend one third of our life sleeping, so why isn’t the remaining two thirds enough to manage ministry and family?
[happy mother, crying child, by MB]