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Conversations in the Saloon

By Lillian R. Perry, age 15

So I was in the “saloon” (aka, hair salon) in Yei getting my hair done, when one of the ladies who was waiting started complaining to the hairdresser that it was taking too long to have my hair done (in Juba Arabic of course).  I said that I was sorry (in English).  The lady looked at me and said, ''Who is this lady who speaks very good American English?''  The hairdresser told her I was Doctor Perry's daughter.  When she heard this, she said ''Oh, Doctor Perry, the nice man with the funny beard!"  Well, if that was not enough, she said "I didn't know Doctor Perry had such nice coffee colored children."  For the next ten minutes all they talked about was the hospital and my dad.   Just as my dad was pulling up the lady said "I just love the color of the hospital—bright blue!" 

Last Updated on Sunday, 17 May 2015 15:14

Not Quite the Slow Boat-- But Close

After a 3 month medical leave in the US for Jeff to have several eye surgeries, we were eager to return to our home in South Sudan in early March 2015.  This is the tale of a family of ten traveling around the world...

It used to be that missionaries took several months on the “slow boat” to get to their field of service.  Thankfully, we live in an age of rapid global transit—usually…

We arrived at the Denver airport on schedule for a Sunday evening departure.  Our 30 bags were neatly stowed in our cargo trailer, all under the allotted 50 pounds (according to our highly calibrated hand scale from Wal-Mart).  The skycaps met us at the curb and took our bags into the check in counter, where there was just a short line.  Our booking was a humanitarian fare, and we were allowed 3 bags per person, but our travel agent warned us that the agent might not see the notation, so she had prepared us.  As expected, the agent balked at the 30 bags, but we were able to refer her to “lines 38-39” of the reservation.  Somehow we ended up with 32 bags (those higher math skills are a challenge to us doctor types).  We were prepared to pay the overage, but their computer system kept displaying that we owed them for 22 bags—over $4,000!  The supervisor couldn’t solve the computer issue, so she simply let it go (she has apparently seen “Frozen”) and didn’t charge us anything.  We were grateful for the reasonableness of the agents.  It seemed that this trip was off to a smooth start…

With that saga over, we were prepared for 2 long flights, and happy not to have to manage the checked bags again until we reached Uganda.  We were free of jackets and sweaters, as the next time we would leave the airport would be in ever-warm East Africa!  We slogged our way through security with the inevitable “illegal” items that were in our kids’ suitcases unbeknownst to us (the 10 year old, freckled, strawberry blonde Olivia was the suspected terrorist this time, with a large tube of shampoo, conditioner, and cream cheese as her weapons).  Our remaining concern was the short transfer time we had in London—1 hour 50 minutes—especially as it took us 2 hours 30 minutes to make the transfer the last time.  We got the sense from the Lord to not worry about it, but we did fret about it some, as our experiences with security screening in London was obnoxious to say the least.  Upon check-in, we noticed that the departure was delayed one hour, which increased our concern even more.  They assured us, however, that the arrival time would still be the same because of favorable tail winds.  Sure enough, as we got airborne, the expected arrival time was even a bit earlier than scheduled, so we relaxed and got some rest.

Elizabeth and I awoke to the sensation that the plane was slowing and descending.  The pilot got on the radio and explained that a passenger was very sick and the plane would have to make an emergency diversion.  We were about halfway through our journey from Denver to London, about to cross the Atlantic.  They would be dumping jet fuel to allow the plane to land safely in St. John, Newfoundland, Canada—the easternmost city in North America.  He assured us that we would be back in the air shortly, after refueling.

After some time on the ground, the captain again came on the intercom to explain there was a problem with the refueling valve, but that the engineer was on his way to fix it.  After about one hour, the engineer arrived and starting working.  The pilot later came on to explain the good news that the problem was fixed, but the bad news that the crew was now near the end of their legal amount of time on duty.  If we took off, we would need to land in Ireland to change crews prior to continuing on to London.  Several minutes later, he returned to say that they couldn’t even make it to Ireland within the time limit, so we would need to overnight in Newfoundland.  We continued to sit in the plane, on the runway—now about 14 hours since we left for the 9-hour flight.  As the airline did not use this airport, they had no ground crew to manage the 300 some passengers.  We continued to sit in the plane as they tried to figure out where to put all of us.  The passengers by now were quite agitated, and tempers flared.  It was a bit scary, mostly sad, to see the stress response of people.  We noticed a man near us who was moving constantly, and talking to himself incessantly.

The children did great, and we were thankful that God kept us in peace as we tried to keep our minds staid on Him.  We disembarked and learned that we would need to collect all of our 32 checked bags.  And, it was cold there, with a foot of snow on the ground, and none of us had jackets (Winnie was in a T-shirt only!).  Thankfully, we were able to store the bags at the airport (though they were not completely secure).

We decided to embrace the delay—perhaps God was going to allow us some rest in a most unexpected place.  The airline put us up in a nice hotel, the kids went swimming, and we had some good meals.  Elizabeth found some great jackets at a thrift store, where things happened to be 50% off that day!  Most of us needed jackets for the rare times it gets cool in East Africa, and the Lord provided some great ones.  We were up the next morning at 4:30 AM, but felt refreshed.  We collected all 32 bags (nothing missing as far as we know) and rechecked them after waiting in the 300 person queue. 

The flight resumed.  Again we were seated near the man who evidently suffered from some form of schizophrenia.  His talking got louder and his movements more erratic.  We visited with some of the other passengers who were now becoming an unusual cohort of total strangers undergoing a difficult situation together.  Plans were being disrupted. 

People don’t watch how you act during good times; they watch how you deal with trials.  Near the end of the flight, a flight attendant came and knelt by Elizabeth and shared that she and her husband were getting ready to start a family, and she wanted to raise kids like ours.

“What’s your secret?” she asked.

“There is none—simply to train your children to worship the one true God,” Elizabeth replied.

“Yes, I know, I am a Christian, but what is your secret to raising your kids?”

“Only to be a worshipper of Jesus and follow Him before our children.”

We are not sure she received that—there truly is no parenting secret other than this.  Elizabeth did also refer a book to her—Shepherding a Child’s Heart.

We arrived in London on Tuesday evening (rather than the scheduled Monday morning).  We would have to overnight in London as well, and arrive to Uganda 48 hours later than expected.  The children’s new passports were quickly getting filled with unplanned entry stamps—Canada, United Kingdom, and then Uganda.  The Jordanian man with schizophrenia was again next to us at the customer service counter.  We were prompted to pray for him—such a stressful situation for anyone to deal with, much less if one has under/untreated mental illness.  We may never know the specific effects of our prayers, but effects there are.

Usually on a 9-hour flight, one barely gets acquainted with any of the other passengers.  In a bizarre sort of sociology experiment, we were with this group of people for nearly 60 hours.  The reason for the whole flight delay?  A young man tried to kill himself by taking pills and drinking alcohol.  A large, for-profit airline spent huge amounts of money to divert its flight for the sake of one passenger’s life.  How much more did our God of Mercy do by spending the blood of His Son to save our lives!

Just before we left our town in Colorado, I noticed a church sign which rung true with me—“Change is easier when you trust in an unchanging God.” Along the way, there was much time for being in God’s Word and listening to Him.  We are grateful to serve an unchanging God, one who is more concerned with His people knowing Him than a “smooth” travel experience.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 01 April 2015 20:12

God...still Sovereign after all these years

We returned to the US on December 2, saw the retinal surgeon and cataract surgeon on December 3, and had the first surgery on December 16.  I (Jeff) had the oil removed from my eye and a "scleral buckle" placed-- a small silicone band around the white of the eye, up and behind the eyelids and eye muscles.  Yes... painful. My eye pressure was undetectable before the surgery.  After the surgery, I had some pressure but still very little vision (could only count fingers).  Three weeks later, I had cataract surgery which improved my vision to 20/200 in the right eye (my left eye is seeing 20/15!).  The images I see, however, are distorted and don't align with the left eye-- so I have double vision.

On January 29, I will have the capsule around my lens opened by a laser and the surgeons will re-evaluate my pressure and the retina.  We are awaiting a "plateau" of my vision and subsequent release from the surgeons to return to South Sudan.  

Whether the plateau will be a "mesa" of useful vision or a "broad valley" of blindness in the right eye, we don't yet know.  We do know that our God is good, He is God, and He is working out His best plan for us and for His House of Hope.  We don't need to know the big picture, and it isn't our right to know-- He is God, and we aren't.  This is the essence of truly trusting Him-- a lesson we keep thinking we have learned, but then we see that we still don't trust Him completely.  Negative news tends to emotionally set us back.  We keep repeating to each other-- "God...still Sovereign after all these years!"  Sounds funny, but in practice, don't we often act as if we think His Sovereignty had an expiration date? (or "expiry date" if you are not from the US!)

We do sense we are to return and continue work in South Sudan at His House of Hope Hospital, with or without vision in my right eye.  But whether this trial is to end as a "thorn in the flesh" (2 Cor 12:7-9) or a "your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your affliction" (Mark 5:34), we don't yet know.  If a thorn, we thank God for humbling us and teaching us that He can work through our weakness to show His power-- this is His gift to us ("My grace is sufficient for you...").  If healing happens, we will be humbled at His display of power and thank Him for restoring my sight.  Either way, we know His priority for us to know Jesus and follow Him (Mark 8:34-35), and we are grateful that He continues to draw us into deeper communication with Him.  

Truly, this is a small difficulty.  We know there are many in South Sudan that have experienced far more hardship than we have, and they often don't have access to alleviate their suffering or obtain medical care. Such was the man whose 7 year old daughter died at our hospital.  As he wept, our staff tried to console him, and he was angry.  We thought he was angry because he donated his blood, paid for the transfusion costs, and yet she died.  Then he shared that she was the last of his eight children, all of whom were now dead.  We know nothing of the suffering that many have seen.

What difficulties are you facing?  Are they driving you to abandon all to follow God or are you trying to preserve the life you know?  

"For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it." -Jesus, in Mark 8:35

Last Updated on Saturday, 24 January 2015 21:14

Further along the unexpected road

Surgery number three in Kenya, May 23-- not our choice of how to end our first vacation of the year.  We were, however, thankful to be together this time.  Our children had been to Tenwek Hospital 2 years earlier, and still remembered many of the kids.  They were excited to renew friendships and meet new families that had more recently joined the work there.  

With Elizabeth attending to me before and after surgery, and the kids enjoying themselves with us, this surgery was a much more peaceful experience.  The surgeon replaced the retina, dissecting the scar tissue which had formed after the first two surgeries and caused the second detachment.  He placed silicone oil in the eye to keep the retina in place, with the understanding that the oil would need to be surgically removed six months later.  Recovery was much quicker than the previous times-- which seemed to be related to the presence of my wife and family.  I still had no useful vision in the right eye, because of the oil and the damage to the retina, but we were ready to settle in with life again.  I was encouraged by one of the doctors there that I might still be able to do surgery with eyesight in only one eye.

Back in South Sudan, I resumed work-- minus performing surgeries.  After about 3 weeks, my partner was going on holiday, so I thought I would try operating with him a few times.  It was difficult, and I was more cautious than before my loss of sight, but I found that I could safely do what needed to be done.  While many were praying for restoration of my sight, God showed us that He would instead give us what we needed to continue.  His grace is sufficient, and His power is made perfect in weakness.  It is our hope that in our weakness, others will see His greatness.

In early August, a recheck revealed that the retina is still in place and the nerve is healthy!  On the other hand, the iris is stuck to the lens (causing the pupil not to constrict much), a cataract is forming in the lens, the pressure is low (likely due to a leak inside the eye), and the right eye is not aligned with the left.  The vision is still worse than 20/400, with distortion of what is seen.  After praying and considering the options, we have determined the next round of evaluation and surgery will be best accomplished in the US-- in December of this year.

In the process of these many trips to Tenwek, the Lord has connected us with new friends and initiated discussions about how to strengthen healthcare in South Sudan.  We share what we are learning medically, and dream about how God would have us encourage health providers in East Africa.  Perhaps He will use this series of trials to save lives in South Sudan and bring glory to His name-- which is His goal, and therefore ours as well.

Last Updated on Saturday, 16 August 2014 17:07

Second Surgery... and a Scary Sickness

After 2 weeks of recovery (and waiting for the gas bubble in my eye to dissolve) in Kenya, I made the return trip to South Sudan-- by myself and with sight in just one eye.  Arriving in Uganda late at night, they wouldn't allow me to transfer to the terminal for my connecting flight the next morning.  So I sat near the open door next to the runway, being swarmed by insects and smelling jet fuel.  It was too late to leave the airport (in the rain) and pay for a visa, taxi, and guesthouse.  After waiting for several hours and asking multiple people, I finally found a security guard who made some calls and granted me access.  I rested in the terminal and boarded my flight the next morning.

It was a great comfort to be back with Elizabeth and the kids-- we had not been apart for that long in all our 17 years of marriage.  The kids took turns reading to me (as my good eye got tired quickly), covering a good portion of the original Nancy Drew series (we have several pre-teen girls, can you tell?).  I arrived back the day before our South Sudanese pastor was officially installed, for which I was extremely thankful. We had seen him go from schoolteacher to pastor-in-training, through Bible college, to leading the church.  It was a good day of celebrating with him.

The Lord brought doctors to cover in my absence, and another came from the US in response to our call for help.  In between, though, there were 2 days without coverage.  A local South Sudanese surgeon came to do a C-section one of those days, and the next day a baby in distress prompted me to go over and assist with a difficult delivery.  She had a bad laceration, but I was not yet able to see well enough to do it, so I talked our "clinical officer" (like a physician's assistant) through the challenging suturing job.

We were very grateful to see the doctor the next day.  As soon as he set down his bags, he put on scrubs and asked to be pointed in the direction of the hospital.  While he was only there one week, he hit the ground running and never stopped!  He had worked in Niger for 6 months, so he was savvy to and equipped for the type of work in South Sudan.  Aside from medical work, he taught our son new guitar skills (which I couldn't do because at age 10, he's already better than I am!).

The Lord had already arranged that another similarly trained doctor was coming for a 2 week visit, arriving on the day the other doctor left.  During this time, we also welcomed our first South Sudanese intern doctor, who came to work and learn alongside us at His House of Hope.  During this time, I was due to travel back for a recheck of my eye.  

Elizabeth and I decided we would go together, as we anticipated another surgery to wash out the blood from my eye.  Arriving Saturday evening, we decided we do some labs just to be sure that the bleeding complication in the first surgery wasn't due to an underlying problem in me.  To our surprise, both screening labs were abnormal.  This started us down a trail of talking with hematologists in Nairobi, which led to a one day trip to Nairobi and back for more labs.  I was cleared for surgery, but only if I was given fresh frozen plasma (FFP-- contains clotting factors) before and after surgery.

The next morning, I was given FFP and had the surgery.  The retina was still attached, and they were able to remove most of the blood from my eye.  I had to sleep upright, and had a fair bit of pain and nausea, but after 36 hours, we boarded a flight to return to our children, who were under the watchful care of one of our missionary nurses back in South Sudan.  As we started our return trip, she mentioned that our youngest child (Winnie, who had just turned 5) had malaria and had been started on treatment.

Upon our return, she had taken a turn for the worse.  She was laying on the floor and didn't even get up.  We promptly started her on IV fluids and stronger malaria medications, but she didn't get better.  The next day, she got a high fever, so we retested for malaria, and found it to be negative.  She got a little better, then got an even higher fever (up to 106+ degrees).  The visiting doctor and I scoured our brains for what we could be missing.  We started her on treatment for typhoid, but she continued to worsen.  After 2 days of illness, we thought about evacuating her, but realized that even if we did, it would take several days for them to evaluate her and have more information than we did then.  It was Easter morning, and I prayed more earnestly than I can remember doing previously.  The only other illness that seemed to fit the description of high cyclical fevers, severe shaking chills, and abdominal pain was tularemia.  We weren't covering for it, and there is no good way to test for it.  So, we chose to put her on a strong antibiotic (chloramphenicol) even though it had risks of causing problems with her blood.  It would cover for this illness as well as resistant typhoid.  

At this point, I really didn't care if I ever regained sight in my right eye-- the life of our daughter was much more important.  We were aware of the fact that God might not grant her continued life.  It was a process of releasing her to Him, trusting that He could sustain even through the loss of her life.  Honestly, I told Him I didn't think I was ready for that, but I knew in my head that He could see us through it.

Later in the day, her fever went away and did not return again.  She started eating again and regained her strength slowly by slowly.  We thanked Him for sparing her and trembled at how close we were to her death.

The day after Easter, with Winnie recovering, I noticed the little vision I had regained after the second surgery seemed to darken, as if a curtain was pulled down over my right eye.  I mentioned it to my eye surgeon, who was concerned.  We thought likely I had bled again.  We could not fathom another trip so soon again, so we waited until we were scheduled go through Nairobi a few weeks later.

Meeting us in the parking lot of the Nairobi airport, while others around us knelt and prayed to the east, the surgeon examined my eye and delivered unexpected news-- the retina was detached again-- this time much more extensively than the first.  I would need another surgery.

While not excited to have needles stuck in my eye again, we were at peace that God was still in control.  "He's still sovereign..." we repeat to each other.  "It's like He knows everything."  (We say this "tongue-in-cheek", as we know He truly does know everything, but often forget this in daily life!)  As we were traveling in Kenya as a family, we would be together for surgery number three-- a great comfort to us all.

(In the next post, surgery #3, trip #4 for a recheck, and what God did in the midst of all this...)

Last Updated on Saturday, 16 August 2014 14:12

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Our Mission:

Share the gospel of Jesus Christ and strengthen His Church through medical care and education, discipleship, and loving the people of South Sudan as a family.

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